File Sharing/Publishing

Tetra4D Update Enriches Creation of 3D PDFs

10 Sep, 2016 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin

For Tech Soft 3D, the addition of export support for STEP AP242 format is another step toward the goal of perfectly packaged 3D data.


Tech Soft 3D produces two types of offerings: one intended for developers, and the other for end users. The first category comprises software development services and tools such as the Autodesk RealDWG toolkit, the Siemens Parasolid geometric modeling kernel, and the HOOPS platforms, which power hundreds of applications behind the scenes. “More than 500 companies are licensing our SDKs [software development kits],” noted Tyler Barnes, vice-president of marketing for Tech Soft 3D.

The second category carries the Tetra4D brand and includes Tetra4D Converter, which converts native 3D CAD data from more than 20 file formats into interactive 3D PDF documents, and Tetra4D Enrich, which builds on the functionality of Converter with expanded creation capabilities. Enrich enables users to add view carousels and bills of materials to their 3D PDFs, and create their own templates for design change notifications, requests for proposals, parts catalogs, marketing presentations, and other 3D PDF documents. Templates can be created in any application that allows users to save to PDF format, including Microsoft Word and Adobe Photoshop.

Notably, this functionality is accessible to users without any programming knowledge. “Until now, this has all been too challenging and too expensive … requiring extensive Javascript programming and many man-hours on a per-document basis,” said Jordan Opsahl, Tetra4D technical marketing specialist. “We’ve really simplified the user interface and the tools for creating these advanced documents.” 

A Heavy Communication Burden

According to a study conducted by Lifecycle Insights, engineers spend more than 30 hours per week on design communication tasks — creating drawings, answering questions or clarifying drawings, and generating additional drawing documentation. “The problem is, without access to 3D, communication often becomes unclear or challenging for a lot of users,” Opsahl noted. “Unless you have a CAD seat, it’s very difficult to share your design and 3D data, [both] inside and outside the organization.”

Rather than spring for another CAD license or get a special viewer, Tetra4D thinks users should turn to 3D PDFs to share their designs. “They include all the information you need for any workflow in one document,” said Opsahl. 

That can include: forms; model geometry and metadata; audio, video, and images; and product and manufacturing information (PMI) and geometric dimensioning and tolerancing (GD&T). Data from a product lifecycle management (PLM), product data management (PDM), or enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, such as the prices of particular parts, can be imported and attached to the model. (To see examples of what a 3D PDF can incorporate, you can download samples from the Tetra4D site and open them in Acrobat Reader.)

Having all this information available as a design moves from hand to hand can mean better decision-making along the way. “You can often catch issues before they become a problem and require rework,” Opsahl observed.


This Tetra4D Enrich document includes a view carousel and part notes. 


The greatest advantage of 3D PDFs, however, may be that anyone equipped with the free Adobe Reader program can open and use them — unlike a native CAD file. “One of the best benefits of PDFs as a whole is you can share them with anyone,” said Opsahl. And the learning curve is not a concern, Barnes noted: “They all know how to deal with PDFs already.”

A Step Up in Formats

In its latest update, Tech Soft 3D has added export support for STEP AP242, a standard for 3D model-based engineering (MBE), to Converter and Enrich. This change means that users of Tetra4D solutions can share product information downstream in the form of a technical data package with an attached STEP file.

Many organizations are moving toward using 3D in the manufacturing portion of the product development process, said Barnes — especially those involved in automotive, aerospace, and defense projects. STEP AP242 is a requirement for military standard 31000A, which provides requirements for the deliverable data products associated with technical data packages.

In addition, Enrich now enables users to populate text fields such as title blocks with native CAD attributes, and boasts improved performance, which boosts the speed of working with large and complex models, yielding a faster, more efficient creation process, according to Tech Soft 3D.

Because the model geometry and all necessary supporting data are packaged in a lightweight format, the files can be easily transmitted via e-mail or stored for internal purposes, such as keeping a record of design changes. As an example, Opsahl pointed to Boeing, which has millions of PDF documents archived for its Dreamliner jet airliner alone.

To achieve file sizes small enough to be shared easily via e-mail, Tech Soft 3D relies on the PRC format that is part of the PDF standard — a format the company created. “PRC compression takes a 3D CAD file down to 5–10% of its original size,” Opsahl explained.

Sizing Up the Competition

Although Tetra4D is not the only option in the marketplace for 3D PDF software, Opsahl asserted that its completeness distinguishes it from competitors. “Not all 3D PDFs that we’re seeing out there are created equal,” he said. Although other 3D PDFs may include model structures, various views that users can cycle through, and properties or attributes native to the original CAD file, this is really only enough functionality for design reviews, said Opsahl, not specific workflows.

The Tetra4D version offers greater functionality, he explained, making the experience “more like an application” as opposed to simply “3D on a page.” For example, users can cycle through views and carry out other functions with buttons, create custom buttons, include bills of materials (BOMs) in their 3D PDFs, select an item in a BOM to highlight the appropriate part in the model (and vice versa), and use green and red color-coding to check tolerances.

Pricing

Free trial versions of Tetra4D Converter and Enrich are available. The full versions are priced at $498 and $1,748 per license, respectively.


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