Editor's Window1 Feb, 2006 By: Sara Ferris
3D Heats Up: News from Adobe, UGS should spark interest in 3D publishing.
In January, Adobe launched a 3D version of its Acrobat PDF publishing application and UGS announced plans to publish its JT format in late 2006 (see CAD Central for details). Already an area of rapid changes and keen developer interest, 3D publishing is on the brink of delivering on its promise of making data in the 3D design model available for downstream applications such as manufacturing, supply-chain management, maintenance and so forth.
Many of the major players in the 3D format wars were more than happy to talk about their take on the topic. Adobe's expansion into 3D is a good thing, most agree, because it will create more demand for 3D content and authoring tools. What strikes me is that the features of the various 3D formats may end up being less important to their success than the business models behind them.
On Adobe's part, it steps up to supply the ingredient missing from its support of the U3D format: an easy way to convert CAD models to U3D so that they then can be embedded in PDF files (or embedded in Office documents that can then be converted to PDF).
Adobe's approach is clearly derived from its experience in the printing and technical illustration arena. The author pays for the 3D creation tools (a not-insignificant $995 in the case of Acrobat 3D), but a free viewer enables wide access to that content. The process supported by the tool is document-centric—the goal is not to send a model to someone, but a PDF document. Adobe here touts the broad reach of its free viewer and the high familiarity of computer users with the PDF format.
Formats that originated with CAD developers take a more model-based approach, retaining nongeometric data as well. (Depending on the translation method used, Acrobat 3D can retain some of this metadata, but full support for GD&T and product information data will require additional plug-ins.) Access to this design intelligence makes formats such as JT and DWF useful in a wider range of downstream applications.
UGS' business model for JT follows a different track as well. Developers who want to support the JT format in their applications must join the JT Open program and pay royalty fees to UGS. UGS anticipates no changes to its approach on the publication of the JT format. Autodesk follows a third route with its DWF format. It makes publishing and viewing tools freely available, but charges for extra functionality such as roundtrip markup and redlining tools.
It's interesting that the two CAD companies take approaches that minimize the costs for those who are actually creating the CAD model. As is already clear with both JT and DWF, designers and engineers will find uses for the format if the barrier to adoption is low. For a CAD user, though, the best use may be for design collaboration, communicating with manufacturing and other purposes that don't range too far downstream. Adobe's product may appeal more to downstream users, such as technical illustrators, who create documents as part of their daily workflow.
The biggest impact on downstream processes, however, is likely to emerge from the ranks of third-party developers who tailor their programs to take advantage of data stored within these various formats, making the actual format involved transparent to the end user.