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First superset version for subset of users

Adobe Acrobat 3D: First superset version for subset of users

The recent release of Adobe Acrobat 3D may finally prove that Adobe PDF is a file format suitable for far more than printing documents. The new Adobe Systems product is a superset of the current Acrobat 7.0 Professional software, adding capabilities specifically aimed at the needs of a subset of high-end users in select vertical industries.

In the manufacturing, architecture, engineering and construction industries, the enhanced Acrobat 3D tools for capturing and converting complex 3D images and objects from major computer-aided design (CAD) applications into easy-to-share PDF documents are attracting considerable interest and praise.

Using Adobe Acrobat 3D, you can import and convert 3D Computer-Aided Design (CAD) files, capture 3D CAD models and use PDFMaker to add 3D content to Microsoft Office files. Viewers can interact with 3D models in PDFs in numerous ways—rotate, pan, zoom, etc.—by activating a 3D toolbar. The recently released Adobe Reader 7.0.7 provides enhanced 3D PDF functionality, making it easy to share 3D-based documents for review.

According to Bahman Dara, Adobe’s senior product marketing manager for Acrobat 3D, the company chose to focus primarily on the manufacturing industry for several reasons. One factor, he says, is that it represents a significant percentage of Acrobat penetration and revenue. “People are using the product in manufacturing fairly extensively,” Dara says. Equally important, he says, Adobe is blessed with considerable internal CAD expertise and manufacturing knowledge, in addition to good working relationships with an established customer base.

In defining the need for such a product and its eventual feature set, Dara says he and other Adobe colleagues “spent about six months in the field talking to different manufacturers — both existing customers and others. We explained we were thinking about doing some additional things with Acrobat based around sharing CAD-type data, and asked about the kinds of problems and issues they deal with that we might be able to help address.”

The compiled and analyzed answers led to the development by Dara of the product specifications for Acrobat 3D, which began shipping January 23. The key areas identified and addressed by Adobe, he says, include:

While Acrobat Professional 7.0 has had the ability to display 3D CAD drawings, a third-party translator was required to import them. Acrobat 3D can import 3D CAD drawings directly into PDF, either by drag-and-drop or by capturing an OpenGL video stream from most major CAD applications. 3D CAD designs can be inserted into Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents, then converted to Adobe PDF.

“There are half a dozen kinds of documentation involved in any activity in manufacturing project management,” Dara says, including not only CAD, but memos, notes, spreadsheets, etc. Adobe PDF is an ideal container, serving as a common denominator for the mixture of document and file types.

According to Dara, a significant problem with the necessary distribution of CAD-based drawings is the lack of document security. “It’s all about intellectual property,” he says, underscoring that PDF offers several levels of and options for protection, from password-securing files to server-level protection controlled by a user-defined set of policies – including the ability to limit a document’s public lifespan or even revoke viewing access. Adobe recently purchased the Digital Rights Division of Navisware, and is expected to utilize the technology to protect documents in PDF, Microsoft Office and CAD formats.

While sharing CAD documents within an internal design team typically happens within a CAD application installed on all workstations, it’s an expensive, if not highly unrealistic, expectation when the CAD files and related documents need to be distributed outside the core group. A common, make-shift solution to the problem, Dara says, involves the creation of 2D screenshots of 3D images, which are then exchanged via e-mail — neither a satisfactory nor efficient method. 

With Acrobat 3D, CAD images in PDF retain all of the important visual characteristics for accurate display, rotation, animation, manipulation, etc. The PDFs can also be rights-enabled and shared for easy viewing by users equipped with the free Adobe Reader, which has been recently upgraded to include an enhanced set of 3D-viewing tools for a rich, interactive viewing experience.

NOTE: Adobe Reader 7.0 – 7.0.5 can open, view and interact in several ways with PDFs containing 3D models, but the new version 7.0.7 provides additional functionality. If the document creator assigns special rights with Acrobat 3D, the viewer can access two additional tools — for measuring distances and displaying cross sections — as well as add comments.

Response since the release supports Dara’s belief that Acrobat 3D will not only become popular in manufacturing, but will have crossover implications in other fields with similar issues and demands – and likely for some uses Adobe never envisioned. Early industry praise includes:

  • Seybold Reports says printers will need to soon be on the lookout for documents containing 3D images, but also suggests it “will also mean that many files will bypass print altogether. The prototype manuals with 3D files embedded are far more useful and practical than anything that can be done on a printed page. That’s not really new, but this product is certain to make such documents more commonplace.”

  • Architosh laments that Acrobat 3D is not available* for Macintosh OS X users (due to its limited use in CAD, according to Dara), but says some of the “more interesting things that can be done with Acrobat 3D is set up additional new views and create dynamic cross-sections of the model data. You can, of course, measure and place note comments just like in Acrobat Professional. Perhaps one of the most compelling features is the ability to setup animations — like exploded views — using the 3D Toolkit, a companion application.” *Adobe Reader 7.0.7 is available for Mac OS X and can be used to view 3D content in PDFs.
  • Desktop Engineering Magazine () says “the new program means these team members will be able to immerse themselves in the design process without the need for CAD software, as many of them already have the free reader and don’t have any real need to run a CAD program on their desktops.”
  • ConnectIT e-News Daily quotes Toronto, Canada-based typographer Nigel Allen: “The great leap forward is that Adobe Acrobat 3D allows you to see how various parts of landing gear, for instance, might fit together. You can rotate the 3D object and view it from different angles. Three-dimensional drafting software has been around for some time, but what is new is the ability to view 3D on any computer with the latest Acrobat Reader.”
  •, the Online Acrobat & PDF Community for Architecture, Engineering and Construction says “Acrobat 3D is one to watch and one that could have significant influence on getting 3D to the masses, just as the PDF did for the proliferation of universally distributed documents.”
  • My-ESM says “The implications for the CAD industry are incredible. Finally, designers can send instructions to a factory to ask if they could follow the manufacturing process, but without sacrificing large trade secrets. It also means that sharing all information regarding the creation of any CAD file will be much easier.”
  • MX DEVELOPER’S JOURNAL says “the company’s goal is to help extend 3D visualization, communication and collaboration across geographically dispersed organizations. It looks like they may have a new global mega-hit on their hands.”
  • E-Week says “publishing and creative personnel can bring service, operations and training manuals, Web-based brochures and catalogues to life with rich, intuitive 3D content, helping provide a better user experience for their clients.”

Acrobat 3D is immediately available in English, French and German versions, with a Japanese version due for release in the near future. It’s available for Microsoft Windows 2000 (with Service Pack 2), Windows XP Professional, Home and Tablet PC Editions, and IBM AIX 5.2, HP UX 11.0, SGI IRIX 6.5, and Sun Solaris 2.8 (for Acrobat 3D Capture utility). Acrobat 3D is available for  retail purchase, through Adobe’s Open Options 4.5 licensing programs and online from the Adobe Store — as a full version for $995, or as an upgrade for registered users, from Acrobat 6 Professional for $699 or from Acrobat 7 Professional for $545.

A 30-day tryout version is also available for download.