Monday, November 7, 2011

3D PDF Technology – Where it fits in

I happened to read about PROSTEP PDF Generator 3D in CIMData’s website this weekend which lead me to explore the world of 3D PDF’s. I find interactive 3D PDF files pretty amazing. For those of you who haven’t had a chance to view them please click on this link: to view sample 3D PDF files. There are several examples listed like:

     Turbine engine (PDF, 4.5M, Original CAD format: SolidWorks)

     Jet concept design (PDF, 4.7M, Original CAD formats: Siemens NX, CATIA V5, and Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire)

     Crankshaftassembly (PDF, 3.0M, Original CAD format: Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire)

I observed many tools when I opened these files in Adobe Reader including those to isolate Parts, different Part Rendering Modes including Transparent, Wireframes, Illustrations etc, different Model Rendering Modes, Model Tree highlighting - will highlight different parts in the model, 3D measurement tools, etc. PDF Generator 3D Reader Extensions Module offers the option of activating a large number of additional functions for using the generated 3D PDF documents in Adobe Reader. The recipient can, for example, add comments or fill in certain fields on a form. PDF Generator 3D Rights Management Module allows the information contained in the 3D PDF documents to be protected against access by unauthorized persons. Access rights can be restricted to a specific period of time and if necessary can be revoked when, for example, a document is no longer valid. Overall I feel it’s a good tool for visualization even though rendering and loading takes some time even with a powerful computer. For those interested in the details of the components of PDF Generator 3D have a look here:

I see 3 major advantages of using 3D PDF technology:

     Standardization: No doubt there are visualization tools from nearly every CAD vendors which will help view a multitude of product data (e.g., MCAD/ECAD files, MS Office documents) without the authoring application. But all such tools need the downstream consumers to have the same tools which might be difficult considering that manufacturing and support services are likely to be outsourced.  I think Adobe tries to solve this problem with Interactive 3D PDF. “Interactive 3D PDF files look exactly like the original 3D design, regardless of the application used to create it or the environment in which it's viewed.” [] The currently supported CAD formats are:

     Reduction in Total Cost of Ownership: If your product data needs to be viewed across the Realise (Manufacturing), Use/Support (Customer service), Retire/Dispose phases (The phases are from John Stark's PLM Grid) then each user associated with the individual phases will need licenses for a visualization tool. With 3D PDF that cost is cut down. Since Adobe Acrobat is installed in the majority of users – this would also mean a reduced load on IT for installing and maintaining the visualization tool. However a details cost benefit analysis should be made comparing the total license costs of the currently used desktop-based visualization tool versus the cost of the 3D PDF Generator tool (a professional server solution that offers full functionality and accommodates up to 50 users for less than € 10,000).

     Long Term Archival and Retrieval Solution: If the lifecycle of your product extends several decades then a question worth pondering is whether the CAD format would still be supported. While the PDF specification was available for free since at least 2001, PDF was originally a proprietary format controlled by Adobe, and was officially released as an open standard on July 1, 2008, and published by the International Organization for Standardization as ISO 32000-1:2008. In 2008, Adobe published a Public Patent License to ISO 32000-1 granting a royalty-free rights for all patents owned by Adobe that are necessary to make, use, sell and distribute PDF compliant implementations. [].3D PDF is the perfect candidate for a long term archival and retrieval solution. More information at 3D PDF Consortium
Thanks for reading! I would be happy read your comments.


  1. Hi - Great article on the value of 3D PDF. I worked at Adobe for over 5 years on evangelizing the value of 3D PDF directly to mfg companies in the USA. There is a lot of interest and adoption of 3D PDF for design visualization and collaboration, 3D technical data distribution to supply chain partners and 3d technical documentation. The ability to embed 3D data in a structured document and combine it with supporting documents is a unique capability of 3D PDF.

    Adobe made some changes in 2009 and no longer provides the 3D data translation technology directly for Acrobat version 10. They spun that technology out and Tetra 4D (the company I am with) was created to provide this technology ontop of the Acrobat platform. So, if you want to continue create 3D PDF with Acrobat X Pro, you need our product, 3D PDF Converter, which plugs-in to the Acrobat Platform. After that the workflow is the same as it was for version 8 and 9 from Adobe.

    Hope this does not sound like a sales presentation, but I think the information is critical for people interested in the great information you provided in your blog, if they want to use 3D PDF with Acrobat 10!

    -Jim Merry
    VP 3D PDF, Tetra 4D

  2. Hi -

    Great article on the value and power of 3D PDF! I worked at Adobe for 5+ years in the US focusing on 3D helping mfg companies leverage 3D PDF. There are many groups like Boeing and the US Army who have already adopted 3D PDF for use cases like you have identified and they are receiving great benefit.

    Today if you want to create 3D PDFs with Acrobat X (version 10), you cannot get the entire solution from Adobe. They made a change in 2009 and no longer directly provide the 3D CAD data translation technology that was part of Acrobat 3D v7, v8 and Acrobat Pro Extended v9. They spun the group out and my company, Tetra 4D, was created to provide a plug-0in for Acrobat Pro using this same technology that enables creation of 3D PDFs. Our company executives are all from Adobe and have been working on the 3D PDF business for a long time, so there is continuity of technology as well as people.

    I hope this does not sound too sales oriented, but I thought it would be relevant for anyone reading your article that wants to try this out using the current version of Acrobat (version 10).


    Jim Merry
    Vp 3D PDF, Tetra 4D

  3. Jim,

    I appreciate your comments. I think it’s very relevant – I would encourage companies to try out 3D PDF’s and realize the value add it can do to their processes.


  4. I was overseas just a few days ago and a designer handed a manufacturing guy a file which he couldn't open. In about three mouse clicks I opened it in Acro 3D and voila! - there was the full BREP, automatically (correctly) identified as a Parasolid file. It could be fully manipulated, zoomed, etc. We then put some text around it to describe where we wanted to lose some wall thickness and some fillets to add strength around access ports, and sent it as a PDF file to the guy who was making 2 high-res copies of the part out of nylon (using additive manufacturing-laser sintering) for me to bring home the next morning. It works, and well!


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