AEC

A Look at Adobe Technical Communications Suite

1 Nov, 2007 By: Scott MacKenzie

This new software package will help you supercharge your CAD/BIM technical documentation.


Adobe just released a software collection called the Technical Communications Suite, specifically designed for creating high-end technical documentation. With this package, AEC firms can produce professional-looking CAD standards manuals, tutorials, help files, training videos, and more.

The folks at Adobe gave me a demonstration of the complete suite, which convinced me that this is a fabulous solution to the daunting problem of keeping our CAD and BIM (building information modeling) users well informed and productive. You may have heard of Adobe Creative Suite, a very popular package with marketing and graphic design departments. The Technical Communications Suite, on the other hand, is a publishing solution for IT and CAD departments.

Support, Teach, Test, Inform, Standardize, Promote, Be Effective
If I want to keep my BIM users well informed and in step with company standards, it makes sense to use a really good authoring tool to produce my documentation. I believe we need a really robust technical documentation solution to match our really robust (and complicated) BIM and CAD software, and this product seems to fill that need.

The Package
The applications that make up the Technical Communications Suite are as follows:

RoboHelp and Captivate were Macromedia products until Adobe acquired Macromedia in December 2005.

FrameMaker 8
FrameMaker is for authoring and publishing technical documentation such as the printed versions of software manuals. In my opinion this is the backbone of the suite. Everything produced in the other applications can come together in FrameMaker and then be published to various file formats. Software companies such as Graphisoft use FrameMaker to produce their user manuals.

Notable features: Unicode support, conditional tags, table of contents, and index.

RoboHelp 7
RoboHelp is the tool used for creating help files, e-learning materials, and knowledge bases. It has been a popular help file authoring tool since 1991.

Notable features: Customizable GUI (graphical user interface), HTML editor, and full Unicode language support.

Captivate 3
Capturing screen graphics and screen activity is the job of Captivate. You can create full-featured training videos with audio and utilize its full editing capabilities. Compared with other tools of its kind that I have seen, this is a really nice package.

Notable features: Multi- or single-mode screen recording, audio recording and editing, randomized quizzing and question polls, scoring of user interaction, instructional feedback, and autotext captioning.

Acrobat 3D v8
Acrobat 3D is everything that Acrobat Professional is -- plus the ability to convert 3D CAD content into PDF. You can take your 3D CAD files, put them in PDF, and send them to anyone for review, regardless of the hardware or software they have. Using Adobe's free Acrobat Reader v8 or higher, they can easily review and navigate the 3D content in a PDF. If you have installed Acrobat Reader v8 or higher, you can view this example of a 3D Adobe PDF that contains a mechanical component. Note how you can use your mouse to rotate the 3D object, viewing it from all angles. You can provide your clients or consultants with the 3D model of your design. Say you are an engineer, and you have to convince your architect that your mechanical room is too small for your equipment. A 3D model will explain your dilemma much more effectively than a 2D drawing. Or if you are an architect and you want to show your client how the whole building looks, he or she can control the display of layers and even view building sections.

For more information about this product, see the recent Cadalyst Labs Review of Adobe Acrobat 3D v8. Note that Cadalyst also publishes an Adobe-sponsored series of tutorials on Acrobat 3D, aimed at manufacturing professionals but helpful to AEC users nonetheless.

Notable features: Allows the user to display product manufacturing information from the 3D geometry; export to standard 3D formats such as STEP, IGES, and Parasolid; and exchange 3D CAD images with anyone using Acrobat Reader v8 or higher.

Training
Adobe offers a free OnDemand eSeminar Series and other online training events and the FrameMaker 8 Online Training Library.

Price
The suite retails for $1,599 (purchased separately, the total cost would be $3,492). The upgrade is $999 for eligible users.

Although these tools are nice, you may be thinking, "I can get a different array of programs from other companies that offer screen capturing, help file creation, HTML editing and PDF formatting for less than $1,500. Why should I drop a grand and a half on this suite for my AEC business?" My answer: workflow and quizzing. For the longest time I have been putting off creating my own testing solution. As a CAD Manager I want to know what my CAD users know. And I want them to be motivated to learn more. With the quizzing feature, I can create my own tests per my firm's specific needs. Having this mesh with all my other documentation can only be a good thing. It is also nice to know that a team of software developers are making sure that all these programs work well together.

Workflow
Using RoboHelp, you can run Captivate internally to create and attach videos, and you can insert 3D PDF files created in Acrobat 3D to incorporate into your custom help system. RoboHelp content and Captivate content also are easily incorporated from within FrameMaker. It is nice when file formats are compatible with each other and there is no need for translation. If you in fact want to make great multimedia documentation, doesn't it make sense to use the programs that are designed to work together?

This Adobe diagram shows how the different applications in the Technical Communications Suite flow together.

Conclusion
I like this product suite and would like others in the AEC industry to know about it. In my opinion, it is a must-have for any CAD manager in a sizable AEC firm who is interested in creating high-quality technical documentation. Oddly, as of this writing there is no mention of the Technical Communications Suite on Adobe's home page. Frankly, I am a little surprised. I would have thought there would be something about it, but perhaps the package is too specialized to appeal to the masses.


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Lynn Allen

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