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Viewing Parts with Acrobat 3D

I’ve noticed that Adobe’s Acrobat 3D PDF files are becoming common.  For example, I’ve seen 3D PDF models at Tyco Electronics and Norcomp.

The best about Acrobat 3D?  Since it’s been built-in to Acrobat Reader since, IIRC, 7.07, all you need to do is click on the link, and (assuming your browser has Acrobat setup correctly) the model appears in your browser.  If you click on this link to a Norcomp 180-026-103 HD26M connector Acrobat 3D model, you should see similar to this:

HD26M connector shown by Acrobat Reader 9

HD26M connector shown by Acrobat Reader 9

The 3D PDF format still isn’t a replacement for STEP or IGES files.  The biggest issue for mechanical designers is that, as far as I know, you cannot import 3D PDF parts into a MCAD program and use them in an assembly.

Another problem is that it’s not always possible to measure 3D PDF models.  Suppose I want to know some distances that are not documented on Norcomp’s 180-026-103 2D PDF drawing.   I cannot measure using Adobe Reader 9 and Norcomp’s model, since Norcomp did not enable analysis when they created the model.  If I have Acrobat Professional 7 or later, then I can measure (and can enable measuring for Acrobat Reader by enabling analysis and saving the modified PDF).

When the 180-026-103 model has measuring enabled, Adobe Reader 9 can measure like this (click for a larger image):

Measuring HD26M with Acrobat Reader 9

Measuring HD26M with Acrobat Reader 9

I found it a little hard at first to get Reader 9 to measure what I wanted, but it did get easier with practice.

Another problem is that measurements are in “model units”.  For the 180-026-103 model, the model units appear to be inches, but I know that because I know how big a HD26M connector should be.

So right now 3D PDF is an interesting technology, especially for documentation, but I’ll be downloading STEP files for my designs.


1 Jim Merry { 01.09.09 at 9:17 am }

Jim Merry here at Adobe. Thanks very much for blogging about 3D PDF! I thought I would give a bit of insight into the design process behind the behavior you are seeing with 3D PDF and Adobe Reader 9 for viewing and interacting with 3D information. As you correctly noted the publisher of the PDF file must explicitly enable the measurement capability in the Reader for the document when creating the PDF. We call this feature ‘Reader Extending’ the PDF and there are several features in the free Adobe Reader that can be exposed by the document publisher in addition to 3D measurement. In addition to exposing capabilities in the Adobe Reader, the document publisher can also suppress features in the full versions of Acrobat as well. The idea behind this is to provide the document publisher with a range of options on how they present their information and to control what actions the recipient can take. For example – Depending on what their business needs are they can create a PDF that provides a very high quality B-Rep representation and enable measurements, cross-sectioning, digital signatures, and markup by users of the free Reader; or, they may elect to generate a tessellated version, with a coarse surface mesh and suppress all of the interrogation tools even for users with full versions of Acrobat.

Similarly when the document publisher creates the 3D PDF from their source CAD data, they can control the scale for the model units stored in the resulting file. If they suppress the scale, then the measurement tool will display results in ‘model units’ as you are seeing.

As for other applications not being able to read the 3D PDF, this will likely change over time as more and more people discover the capabilities and start to publish data in PDF.

2 Tony { 01.10.09 at 2:58 pm }

Thanks for the additional information – I do not have time to explore the full capabilities of 3D PDFs. I currently have a narrow focus, which will become clear as I continue this series: I’m only interested in using 3-D CAD data to help design better PCBs.

It looks like 3D PDF is an excellent format for tasks such as reviews, sharing, and documentation. However, the very fact that the publisher can control the model limits its usefulness for design use — a coarse tessellated model won’t give me confidence that my connectors will fit into my PCB properly.

I think it will take some time for companies to learn how to use the 3D PDF format well. For example, I doubt that Norcomp is concerned about users measuring their parts or knowing what the units are – after all, they provide dimensioned 2D Acrobat, IGES and STEP files! But they have limited the usefulness of their 3D PDF files by not enabling these options for Acrobat Reader.

3 aldila { 01.06.13 at 4:35 am }

how to make 3d pdf if we have data from autocad or dwg file ?

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