Acrobat 3D Version 8 – Part 2

Come Spring and Acrobat 3D 8 is all set to take the PDF-DWF war to a new level. Last night Adobe’s executives showed me what Acrobat 3D 8 was all about. As regards GUI and workflow, there isn’t any great difference between the current version and the new version. At least I could not make out much from the Adobe Acrobat Connect conference. They tell me that my Beta is on its way. I hope to get a better look then.

The main drawback in the current version of Acrobat 3D is that it does not come with any translators for 3D file formats, and the ones which exist are not worth it. For example, if I try to create a PDF file from a DWG file, Acrobat pops a message saying “Starting the application that created the selected document Please wait…” (yes, there is no full stop after the word “document”). After about 10 seconds the message disappears and nothing happens. Most probably it is because I have AutoCAD 2000 through to 2008 Beta installed on my computer, not to mention a bunch of IntelliCADs and another bunch of 3D viewers. With so many applications fighting over the “DWG” file association, something like this is bound to happen.

But this is about to change. Thanks to Adobe’s acquisition of TTF, specialists in CAD data interoperability, Acrobat 3D 8 is now armed with technology which allows it to import a variety of native 3D file formats, including some neutral formats. TTF offers read/write libraries for CATIA V4/V5, SolidWorks, IDEAS, Pro-E, Unigraphics, CADDS, Euclid, Parasolid, ACIS, IGES, STEP, VDA, DWG and DXF. So I would expect that an Acrobat 3D 8 user would be able to convert all these formats (and probably more) to PDF. However, Acrobat 3D 8 can export to only the neutral formats, probably since the 3D models in the PDF file are stored at dumb B-Rep solids (without feature/parametric information), although the assembly relationships are maintained.

It is quite clear that Adobe is targeting the aerospace and automotive industries. The presenter mentioned that an Automotive giant had purchased 5000 licenses of Acrobat 3D (the current version) so that they could collaborate better internally and down their supply chain. I will not be surprised if others follow suit with Acrobat 3D 8 offering so much more. It will be interesting to know what Autodesk does to further DWF in these industries.

Acrobat 3D 8 is bound to give developers of high cost 3D viewers a run for their money. But I get the impression that Acrobat 3D 8 will not be just another cheap 3D viewer for native and neutral formats. Adobe wants companies to implement Acrobat 3D 8 and the free reader as an enterprise-wide solution for collaboration between various departments, and then take it further down the supply chain to other companies. In such a scenario, if the aerospace and automotive giants adopt PDF as the common language the industries will follow suit.

Other features in this new version include the ability to compress large data files into a fraction of their size (according to Adobe, 150 times smaller), without losing accuracy. So sending 3D models as PDF files by email should be much easier. This new version can support large assemblies, even up to 1 GB in size and the import process is twice as faster.

Adobe claims that there are more than 200 million PDF documents on the web. In the last two years itself, they distributed 525 million readers. Adobe also claims that the free Adobe Reader is found on 89% of all Internet connected desktops. With so much PDF and so many Adobe Readers around, it’s not surprising that Autodesk decided to give away Autodesk Design Review for free.

Microsoft does not want to include the Adobe Reader in Windows. They are aligning themselves with Autodesk by including DWF support in Vista. So Adobe has taken the back door by striking partnerships with hardware manufacturers so that their Reader comes with new PCs. Adobe is fighting on two fronts: Autodesk and Microsoft, both monopolies in their own respect. Capturing market share is not an easy job, especially when file formats are used as tools as opposed to just ways to store data.