Pass It On (Cadalyst Labs Review)1 Feb, 2007 By: Ron LaFon
Sharing 2D designs is easy with today's publishing options
After investing time and effort in creating basic design drawings, firms usually need to share their work in various ways. Increasingly, the first level of sharing involves other members of the design team who might be dispersed geographically, not to mention the clients who also need to provide their input on design changes. These days, collaborating is an essential part of bringing any project to completion, and creating compact, easily transported electronic documents from CAD designs is an integral part of that process.
I've looked at some of the current applications that are either designed specifically for the electronic exchange of design data or incorporate elements into the underlying design product to facilitate collaboration. These applications vary significantly in their focus, capabilities and price. Visit the Web sites of individual vendors to obtain more detailed information.
Cadalyst sent invitations to several vendors of software for publishing 2D CAD drawings and/or 3D models for design collaboration. This article focuses predominantly on 2D programs, but several of the participating applications also accommodate 3D (to some extent). Seven vendors responded to the invitation. Some vendors didn't have a new version of their product that was ready for the world to see, but others had products that were fully released or far enough along in the beta process to give a good idea of what the forthcoming product release would be like.
The applications covered here vary so widely in their approach, ideology and price that it's impossible to compile a report card to rate them, although the online feature table that accompanies this article (www.cadalyst.com/0207collaborate-table) details the depth and nature of their features. The feature table also notes the size and Web site for the free viewers available for download from each vendor, as well as file formats supported and generated.
I ran a simple test on each product using an older version of the standard Wilhome.dwg file (AutoCAD 2004–2006, 325KB/332,418 bytes) that shipped with AutoCAD. In general, most users have this DWG file on hand, so they can test comparable applications on their specific systems and interpolate the results. Using each of the participating products, I created an electronic document from this drawing and noted the amount of time required to produce the finishing electronic publi-cation, as well as the finished file's size.
When distributing information electronically, file size is an obvious concern—the smaller the file, the faster it can be distributed. This factor becomes especially important if some team members or recipients don't have a DSL or cable connection, so decisions about the appropriate publishing software become a factor.
Any time that design information leaves a design firm, security becomes an additional concern. Look at whether the application that publishes the files for distribution offers some means of password protection or whether users can turn off or hide layers that contain proprietary information—or choose to exclude them from the published file. Users also may find that they can limit printing or viewing of the published file.
For electronically published design information intended for distribution for mark up or notation, determine what markup options are available and whether digital signatures are supported for determining that the appropriate person has seen and generated the specific alterations.
Whatever your specific requirements, a broad array of substantial and capable software applications are available for publishing your drawing and design data for collaboration with your team members, all the while protecting the inter-ests of your design firm and its intellectual property.
SpinFire Professional 8
Price: $499, client only
Actify SpinFire Professional 8 is designed to provide easy access, interaction and communication of part data and related files and documentation for manufacturing organizations and their supply chains. All major 3D and 2D CAD data formats are allowed and supported, with no CAD system required. To say that SpinFire Professional 8 has extensive CAD support is an understatement—an importer spec sheet is available from the Actify Web site (www.actify.com) that delineates the particulars of support for import files.
The Actify product suite forms a digital design communication platform for manufacturing and worldwide supply chains that allows seamless communication and collaboration of 3D and 2D product data.
Actify is a suite of integrated products. For this article, I evaluated the SpinFire Professional 8 client. Also available are the Actify Publisher for centralizing and automating pub-lishing; SpinFire for Microsoft Office, which allows users to embed interactive 2D and 3D CAD data directly into Office documents; Actify DesignShare to centrally manage and produce collaborative publishing using Microsoft SharePoint; and last but not least, the free SpinFire Reader for view-only access to the .3D files created by SpinFire products.
SpinFire Professional streamlines the communication of CAD files and related data by allowing users to save and share this design data as compact, system-neutral .3D files. In addition to its proprietary .3D file format, SpinFire Professional can also publish files in the STL and JT file formats, as well as the increasingly popular U3D format used for 3D Adobe Acrobat PDF files.
New features in Actify SpinFire Professional include the ability to display and interact with PMI (product manu-facturing information) annotations, use API (application program interface) to create custom solutions and create exploded views and animations quickly and easily. The sleek, streamlined interface of this release is easy to use, attractive and well designed.
Other features include the ability to capture all part data for later access, mark up and measurement; merge assembly files to create a complete digital prototype for early design analysis; organize and store related design documents of any file type in a single .3D file; and share and facilitate design data on an enterprise-wide basis without requiring the originating CAD software.
The extensive reach of the Actify suite of products can increase productivity in manufacturing and the supply chain by enabling more efficient communication of both 2D and 3D design data.
After a .3D file is created, users can take the included data to compute volume and surface area and measure thickness and angles. From the .3D file, users can access, switch between or hyperlink disparate entities such as tech-nical specifications, BOMs (bills of material), 3D models, 2D drawings, PDF and Microsoft Office documents and TIFF and GIF graphics files, just to mention a few possibilities. There is no limit to the maximum document size.
For more information about Actify products, including SpinFire Professional, visit the company's Web site at www.actify.com. In addition to information and specifications, the Web site also provides online product demonstrations and downloads of a trial version or the free SpinFire Viewer.
Adobe Acrobat 8 Professional
Price: $449, upgrades start at $159
Adobe Systems is known for a broad range of outstanding applications, but perhaps none is as ubiquitous as its Adobe Acrobat family of products. The recently released Adobe Acrobat 8 Professional offers many new features, including a streamlined user interface and new customizable toolbars. A Getting Started page, which is optionally presented at startup, directs users to commonly used features.
Adobe Acrobat 8 Professional offers a broad range of markup tools with extensive capabilities.
Adobe Acrobat 8 Professional offers improved performance and support for AutoCAD. It allows users to convert AutoCAD drawing files into PDF documents more rapidly and without requiring that AutoCAD be installed on a system. AutoCAD 2007 users will be pleased to know that this release is compatible, and that the Acrobat toolbar appears in AutoCAD 2007 as expected. As each new release and/or update of AutoCAD appears, it seems that this one-button functionality gets broken until the next update from Adobe remedies it, although the functionality of the PDF printer driver works throughout the process.
With Acrobat 8 Professional, users can combine multiple files into a searchable and sortable PDF package that maintains the individual security settings and digital signatures of each included PDF document. Users can manage shared reviews—without IT assistance—that allow review participants to see one another's comments and track the status of the review. Users can allow anyone using the free Adobe Reader software to participate in document reviews, fill and save electronic forms offline and digitally sign documents.
Acrobat 8 Professional allows users to restrict access to Adobe PDF documents using 128-bit encryption. Users can set document permissions to restrict those who can print, save, copy or modify a document. In Acrobat 8 Professional, users can also search for and remove metadata, hidden layers and other concealed information and use new redaction tools to permanently delete sensitive text, illustrations, or other content. The ability to apply password and permissions options in batches to an entire set of separate documents and files is supported using the advanced document-processing options.
Users can apply digital signatures in Acrobat 8 Profes-sional and can also allow anyone using the free Adobe Reader software to digitally sign documents. Watermarking is supported as well.
New in this release of the expanded Adobe Acrobat family is the ability to communicate and collaborate in real time with online personal meeting rooms and interactive Web conferencing using Adobe Acrobat Connect. On the top menu bar of both Adobe Acrobat 8 and Adobe Reader 8, a Start Meeting option facilitates access to Web conferences in which users can collaborate live on a project and even share their screen from any desktop application or file. With the addition of a Webcam, users can see the members of their team as they collaborate as well. This service is available on a monthly or yearly basis for an additional fee, and it greatly expands the collaborative capabilities of Acrobat.
A professional version of the conference software, formerly called Macromedia Breeze Meeting, also is avail-able. Adobe Acrobat Connect Professional is a scalable Web-conferencing solution that can accommodate multiple rooms and as many as 2,500 participants.
Adobe Acrobat 8 Professional runs on Windows and Macintosh systems. PDF files can be viewed on additional desktop and mobile-device operating systems using the free Adobe Reader 8 software that was released as this article was in preparation. Demo versions are available at the Adobe Systems Web site at www.adobe.com/tryacrobat. A new version of Adobe Acrobat 3D is expected in the spring of 2007.
Autodesk Design Review 2007
Autodesk Design Review 2007 is the successor to Autodesk DWF Composer. It's tightly integrated with all Autodesk productivity tools, many of which were enhanced with this release. Among the new capabilities are specific enhancements for the manufacturing industries; for example, the integra-tion of tools offers the ability to round-trip designs quickly and easily.
Autodesk Design Review 2007 includes features specifically suited to reviewing, marking up and measuring 2D and 3D designs quickly and easily.
Autodesk's DWF file format is the preferred file format for the accurate and compact distribution of design data. DWF publishing is built into every Autodesk application, including Autodesk Inventor, Revit and all AutoCAD-based products. Users can download Autodesk DWF Writer, providing plug-ins for rich publishing from SolidWorks, CATIA and Pro/ENGINEER software.
When users access a design file, they have access to viewing, markup and revision features. Markup enhancements include rotate objects and symbols—users can rotate text, rectangles, ellipses and other symbols, even if they contain raster images.
Autodesk Design Review 2007 lets users share, review and mark up both 2D drawings and 3D models in a single file. From the Navigator window, users can add, delete, reorder and rename sheets and models. In addition to the markup tool provided, dimensioning is supported and an ActiveX control provides in-browser capabilities.
CAD file formats supported by Autodesk Design Review 2007 are DWG, DWF and DXF. The application runs under Windows XP and Windows 2000.
Two areas addressed by Autodesk Design Review 2007 are particularly noteworthy. For those in the manufacturing industries, the ability to view animated assembly instructions and exploded views of complex design simplifies their work. The ability to view and mark up BOMs allows users to securely review designs and product definition data early enough in the design process to be very useful.
For those in the building process, Autodesk Design Review 2007 lets users fully visualize drawings and models with tools to do walkthroughs and cross-section models, all without altering the original design file. Construction change orders can be documented using the markup and status-tracking tools to track changes required during construction.
Since its initial release, Autodesk Design Review 2007 has continued to evolve and has been updated with Service Pack 1 for both Autodesk Design Review 2007 and Autodesk DWF Viewer 7. The service pack addresses compatibility issues with Microsoft Internet Explorer 7 and incorporates a number of fixes for problems since the initial release. Service Pack 1 is available as a 13.5MB download from the Autodesk Web site at www.autodesk.com. 3Dconnexion has added support for its Space Traveler device, making it easier to manipulate 3D models, an addition that is sure to make users of that input device happy. The service pack also added performance enhancements to loading DWF files and navigating between sheets. If you haven't already purchased Autodesk Design Review 2007, download a free version from the Autodesk Web site and view a number of tutorials showing how the product works and its applications in specific industries.
Bluebeam PDF Revu: AutoCAD edition
Bluebeam PDF Revu AutoCAD edition combines the accuracy and stability of Bluebeam's DWG-to-PDF creation technology with intuitive PDF viewing, a markup tool and a PDF editor designed specifically for CAD users. In working with a CAD drawing, Bluebeam PDF Revu automatically reads the selected drawing's orientation, scale, line weights, merged lines, plot style table and page size, which eliminate the need to adjust settings for converting DWG to PDF files.
Bluebeam PDF Revu expedites the review and approval process between project team members or clients with markup tools available in an always-visible toolbar.
In addition to its prowess with DWG-to-PDF conversions, Bluebeam PDF Revu can also convert CAD and other Windows files to DWF, TIFF, JPEG, GIF, BMP, PNG, PSD, EMF, WMF and PCL files. Batch creation allows multiple files to be converted, and the included Bluebeam Stapler binds PDF, CAD drawings or Windows files together into a single PDF file and saves the converted files to a designated folder. The Bluebeam Stapler tool can batch-convert files to PDF or any other supported file format.
Security features in Bluebeam PDF Revu allow users to set a password for opening files, restricting printing or designating a printing quality parameter. Users can also restrict the ability to copy text or graphics, creation form fields and annotations or manipulate and render pages, as well as restrict the ability to fill out form fields and create bookmarks. Watermarking capabilities are also incorporated into the application, and AEC-specific symbols and shapes for redlining PDF files are included.
Users can choose a bookmarking style based on the drawing name, drawing layer or the drawing layout name, and they can add four different types of secondary bookmarks that can jump to a specific PDF page, snapshot view, Web page or specific file.
Bluebeam Software offers several PDF-centric applications, but this article only covers the Bluebeam Revu AutoCAD edition. In addition to the AutoCAD edition, Bluebeam also offers a SolidWorks edition, as well as a Standard edition that serves as a PDF editor for MS Office, Windows and CAD. Also available is Bluebeam Conversion Server, a server-based solution for those companies that want to centrally manage their PDF conversions. Bluebeam offers 30-day time-limited trials of each version that can be downloaded from its Web site at www.bluebeam.com. The Web site also includes numerous white papers, case studies and a thorough listing of the features found in each product.
Bluebeam PDF Revu AutoCAD edition runs under Windows 2000, XP and Windows XP Tablet Edition. This version supports AutoCAD 2000, 2000i, 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2007, including MDT, ADT and LDT. AutoCAD 2007 is supported by Pushbutton 4.2.0 and above. AutoCAD 2000 and 2000i are supported only on Windows 2000.
Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint are supported directly by a plug-in that provides a toolbar; all other Windows file formats are supported by the PDF printer driver. AutoCAD LT, Revit, Autodesk Inventor, MicroStation, Pro/ENGINEER and Unigraphics all work with the Bluebeam PDF printer driver. The Bluebeam PDF printer driver automatically recognizes the application from which it is converting and has predefined settings for most major CAD applications for optimal output.
AcroPlot Pro 2007
CADzation offers an array of products designed for converting files so users have options based upon the specific features they need. For this roundup, I looked at AcroPlot Pro 2007, which was released just before Cadalyst's editorial deadline.
AcroPlot Pro 2007 offers a wide range of options for converting files to the numerous output formats that it supports.
Those who are familiar with previous versions of AcroPlot Pro will find numerous updates that distinguish this release. Readily apparent upon first loading AcroPlot Pro is the updated user interface that offers a look and feel that is more consistent with the Windows XP interface. This enhancement is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg, however, as there are numerous new features and enhancements. For example, the software has 64-bit support, including the printer driver, for both XP and Vista. AcroPlot Pro also offers native support for the new AutoCAD 2007 DWG file format. Users can choose layouts and views to convert without having to first open the drawing in AutoCAD. An enhanced PLT-to-PDF or -DWF6 conversion library is included in this release, with PDF-to-DWF6 conversion also offered. The conversion from DWF to PDF has been updated for AcroPlot Pro 2007.
AcroPlot Pro 2007 allows users to produce dual output, creating both PDF and DWF6 files at the same time, and they can batch-stamp and watermark DWF6 files with either text or images.
CADzation's AcroPlot Pro 2007 publishes files in PDF, DWF, BMP, GIF, JPEG, PNG, CALS, TIFF (color) and TIFF G4 (100–400dpi) formats—with a number of variants of most of these files formats. AcroPlot Pro 2007 offers a remarkable amount of flexibility in converting files, which allows users to obtain the specific kind of conversion they want. Even with all of these choices, the interface remains streamlined and intuitive.
The conversion process can be approached using three methods in CADzation's AcroPlot Pro: users can convert DWG to PDF from within AutoCAD, use the separate AcroPlot Pro Windows application or use the Windows virtual printer driver.
AcroPlot Pro 2007 can create PDF and DWF files that combine such disparate file formats as Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, PLT, TIFF, CALS and other image formats. Users can modify the plot settings associated with their CAD drawings before converting to either PDF or DWF.
In testing AcroPlot Pro 2007, I found that output file sizes and the required time for output varied with the method used and the options selected. I was able to output PDF files in Adobe Acrobat 7 format as small as 147KB in as little as 4 seconds, and DWF6 format files that were as small as 129KB in the same amount of time. Because CADzation's AcroPlot Pro offers numerous options, final results will depend upon the choices made before file conversion. Although a new option in AcroPlot Pro 2007 lets users create both PDF and DWF6 at the same time, my timing estimates are based on converting each format separately.
Visit CADzation's Web site for more information and to download demo versions of its applications. The company offers a very wide range of licensing options, ranging from individual user licenses to enterprise-wide installations.
Price: $100–$700 (not finalized)
IGC (Informative Graphics Corp.) offers a very wide range of content-publishing software for individual users toenterprise-level installations and offers viewing and markup solutions for a similar spread of endeavors. For this roundup article, I examined a stable prerelease of MYRIAD 8, the latest release of the CAD-focused viewer. Readers may be familiar with IGC's Brava! product family. Both products support both CAD and document files, but MYRIAD has optimized features and performance for CAD files, and Brava! is becoming more document-oriented. Both support CAD and document files.
Informative Graphics' MYRIAD 8 is a multi-format viewer that allows Windows users to view, print and mark up a wide range of files without requiring access to the native authoring program. The primary focus of this release is CAD files.
MYRIAD is a multiformat viewer that allows Windows users to view, print and mark up office documents, images and CAD files without requiring access to the originating application. It supports all major CAD file formats, including DWG, DXF, DWF, DGN, HPGL, Me10 and SolidWorks and can output to DWF, TIFF, PDF and compact CSF files.
MYRIAD is available in both stand-alone and network versions, and it enables users to easily view and redline document, image and CAD files without modifying the original design file in any way—redlines are saved as separate, overlaid files.
With MYRIAD, users can view, mark up, and print both 2D and 3D CAD files and models, graphical images and Office documents. They compare revisions and perform easy markup review with its Changemarks feature. The Changemarks feature allows authors of markups to assign a placeholder and descriptive text and/or a hyperlink to a particular markup. MYRIAD lets users scale-publish 3D models as either a set of interactive image views or in IGC's content-sealed Visual Rights–protected CSF or 3DF file formats (CSF for 2D and 3DF for 3D), which are viewable with its free reader software.
IGC's Visual Rights capabilities allow users to share design content and allow others to view and interact with the file, while the originator keeps complete control of what can actually be done with the design data. Password protection is incorporated, as are watermarks via an onscreen banner. Visual Rights technology renders document, image and CAD files into an accurate, encrypted, content-sealed format that embeds persistent usage-governing controls. Embedded Visual Rights controls remain when files are viewed in one of IGC's readers.
In terms of MYRIAD's output, all output formats except TIFF can retain layer information, hyperlinks, bookmarks and attribute information. Users can redact sensitive content and output to all formats securely (in all formats but CSF, the information is actually removed from the file). Publishing to CSF/3DF allows users to apply the Visual Rights persistent file security (expiration date; restrict view by layer, print, copy, republish and markup; and add print banners and watermark).
MYRIAD 8's interface is clean and easy to navigate, and the incorporated tools make it a capable tool for collaboration purposes. Previous versions of MYRIAD had a lot of depth, and this latest release continues the tradition. The deeper you dig into the features, the more you'll find—no small feat for an application that presents an easy-to-use and -understand interface. For more information and for downloadable demo versions, visit Informative Graphics' Web site at www.infograph.com.
SolidWorks 2007 Office Premium, eDrawings
Price: $7,995; eDrawings only, $500
SolidWorks is an extremely capable, sophisticated and integrated design application that also allows users to produce electronic eDrawings files from either within the SolidWorks 2007 application itself, from the full eDrawings application, or from the eDrawings Publisher when using other applications (and versions) that support this add-in. The eDrawings file format enables customers to send 3D design data to others without compromising confidential design information. eDrawings files can be watermarked, and digital signature capabilities are available from SolidWorks partners.
SolidWorks can generate compact eDrawings files for collaboration and distribution. The Professional version of eDrawings is the first e-mail-enabled communication tool for the review of 2D and 3D product design data.
Several different bundles of SolidWorks 2007 are available. For this article, I evaluated SolidWorks 2007 Office Premium, which includes the SolidWorks 3D CAD software, a full range of design communication and CAD productivity tools and PDMWorks. My particular focus here is on the provided eDrawings component. eDrawings Professional is included with both SolidWorks 2007 Office Professional and Office Premium. SolidWorks frequently updates its product: I carried out my tests with Service Pack 2, which was released just as I started this article, although a Service Pack 2.1 was released before this article went to press.
The eDrawings software is available in a couple of versions: the standard version of eDrawings is a free viewer application that allows users to view, print and review all types of eDrawings files. It also provides the ability to view AutoCAD DWG and DXF files, as well as SolidWorks parts, assemblies and drawings. The eDrawings file format, whose file extension varies with the type of file from which it was converted (EASM from SolidWorks assemblies or EDRW from drawings, for example), is a compact and feature-rich file format intended for publishing 3D data.
eDrawings Professional software offers all the features of the free eDrawings Viewer and also allows users to create, edit and save reviews by redlining 2D or 3D data and adding written comments; measure geometry in part, assembly and drawing files when dimensions are omitted from an eDrawings file (to protect sensitive design data, users can disable the measurement feature); password-protect eDrawings files; and visualize designs more completely by moving a dynamic cross-sectioning plane through parts and assemblies to see design details typically hidden from view. eDrawings Professional allows users to create review-enabled eDrawings files that allow an unlimited number of recipients to mark up and provide feedback on product designs. Either version of eDrawings offers capabilities such as point-and-click animations that make it easy for anyone with a PC to interpret and understand 2D and 3D design data.
eDrawings Professional also allows users to simply drag-and-drop components to view an exploded assembly—just double-click on the component to return it to its normal position. Additionally, users can view properties such as dimensions, mass, volume, density and surface area of a part or assembly shown in the eDrawings file and view animations created with SolidWorks Animator to observe how moving parts interact as true solids in real time. Finally, users can view SolidWorks configurations and multiple design variations of a part or assembly model displayed within a single document.
For my tests with eDrawings, I generated an EDRW file from the Wilhome.dwg test file from within AutoCAD 2007 using the provided SolidWorks DWGEditor add-in for AutoCAD; the timing listed in the online feature table included the time required to load the generated file into eDrawings. For more information about SolidWorks and eDrawings, visit www.solidworks.com. eDrawings is now available for the Macintosh.
Ron LaFon, a contributing editor for Cadalyst, is a writer, editor and a computer graphics and electronic publishing specialist from Atlanta, Georgia. He is a principal at 3Bear Productions in Atlanta.