Should we “pack” PLM data into 3D PDF?

Should we “pack” PLM data into 3D PDF?

The ability to use PLM in downstream applications was always a challenge. There are multiple reasons for that – complexity of products, expensive licenses, long implementation cycle. At the same time, the value of downstream application is huge. The amount of data that organization can proliferate downstream is growing – it is 3D/2D CAD models and drawings, manufacturing planning information, technical documentation, RFQ for suppliers and many others. I had a chance to read CAD CAM News few days ago. The article is how PROSTEP develops of 3D PDF generator  to facilitate information exchange in the organization. The title was catchy – PROSTEP packages the whole world of engineering in a 3D PDF document. Here is my favorite passage:

PROSTEP PDF Generator 3D allows the server-based extraction of all types of engineering data from the respective CAD, PLM or ERP systems and the embedding of this data in 3D PDF documents. In addition, the container function allows native CAD data, Word documents, pictures and video clips to be added to these documents. Depending on the rights granted by the document owner, the contents can be visualized, copied, printed and/or annotated with Adobe Reader. “Intelligent” templates allow information to be entered into fields on forms or incorporated in dynamic bar codes so that it is automatically evaluated upon return and transferred to the backend systems.

It made me think about the approach. Data is extracted from files, PDM/PLM and ERP systems. The 3D PDF file is generated. Then files can be distributed downstream in the organization and among suppliers. Adobe reader is the only application that needed for this purpose. You can navigate to the following link to see examples of 3D PDF file generated for different purposes.

The advantages of this approach is clear. Files can be sent everywhere and accessed by any person in the organization. No need for licenses. Adobe interface is simple enough. However, what is the potential downside? In my view, connectivity (or potential “dis-connectivity”) is one of them. Information “packed” into 3D PDF file is similar to the other file-oriented solution (i.e. Excel files with Bill of Materials). The ability to have an updated information re-packed again can be critical to provide “timely” information downstream.

What is my conclusion? To find a reliable way to make the information available downstream is critical for many organizations. 3D PDF seems to be as an option. The file-orientation paradigm helps current users to achieve their goal in an easy way. However, the “packing” a whole system into set of files seems to me problematic. The synchronization, run for updated information can become a nightmare. Just my thoughts…  What is your opinion?

Best, Oleg


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  • Agammelgard

    Hi Oleg – have you seen our PDX viewer? Since PDX files are a problem for many vendors w/out PLM systems, we thought it might help.

  • kaheniem

    Good post. Although distributing information in files is oldschool due to the fact that they are not updated as frequently as they probably should. IMHO, With proper user access & rights management and proper social PD tools you can publish live information without sending files of any type.

    I may be wrong though… Wouldn’t be the first time 🙂

  • Douglas Halliday

    Agree with this assessment, but I would like to build it out a bit. There are several firms leveraging 3D PDF for a variety of applications. ProSTEP is one of many. Tetra 4D, Anark Corp, ITI TranscenData, KuboTek are a few examples. 3D PDF is uniquely suited to manage these downstream and MBE-centric workflows due largely to the ability for users to consume and interact with related 2D and 3D data within the PDF container. The ability to add business logic at virtually any layer of the PDF form (XFA forms are the best way to develop the PDF templates) is very versatile. For example, PLM meta-data, 3D annotations and other content such as process steps can be intelligently integrated to create mini-apps for downstream consumption. It is indeed very powerful.

    In fact, the formation of a 3D PDF Consortium was announced at COFES recently. Among the things the consortium will address is the expected ISO certification of the internal PRC 3D format as part of ISO 32000 — the international engineering documentation standard. I think it will be very interesting to watch. There is huge potential here IMHO.

    All for now,

  • beyondplm

    Agammelgard, Thanks for comment and link sharing. I remember PDX files and format since early 2000s. Is it based on Rosetta Net? Best, Oleg

  • beyondplm

    Kalle, thanks for commenting! I’m actually agreeing with you. Online tools can be potentially more interesting than focus on files. However, security issue still prevents people from broad acceptance of cloud/online tools. What is your take on this? Best, Oleg

  • Franco Folini

    PDF is a powerful general purpose container where you can put all sort of files, almost like a zip archive. I’m not sure that in 10 or 15 years our computers will be able to open our old PDF files allowing us to access and view all the content (docs, videos, spreadsheets, 3D models, etc.). Are users fully aware of this possibility? While I like the versatility and power of the 3D PDF format as tool to exchange information, I’m concern about users approaching PDF 3D as a publishing platform in the same way and with the same long term expectations they have for plain PDF (2D) documents.

  • kaheniem

    I agree, the security of the cloud services will always be a question mark. However I would state that cloud service providers have much better security policies and solutions than many other companies out there. I mean many manufacturing companies here haven’t even got solid security strategies & policies and yet they are always concerned about the cloud security. It is somewhat ironic 🙂 The largest security concern is always the employees of the organization not the systems.

    If you have the resources you can always create a private cloud. Combine that with auditing & Identity & Access Management solutions and you should be able to create a pretty secure system.

  • Christian Giraud

    I confirm your point of view.
    In my view, this kind of tool is useful fior unstructured information but in a world of structured information (which is the case of PLM) – we should aim at synchronizing and consolidating data instead of just collecting and appending.

  • Rmcvay_98

    I’m not sure I would agree with this. First off, think about the file size you are talking about. The 3D PDF is a monster to start with and now you want to add video, audio, and MS doc’s. Now who’s mailbox has that big of an in box. Also, I would be very concerned about IP. 3D PDF can be pretty much converter to any CAD format. If you are truly looking at this for some sort of 3D IETM or interactive partslists then you need to look to the tools that are designed for that already.

  • Craig Trudgeon

    The longevity of any format is an obvious concern, however it is even more critical when we think about PLM and the combination of 3D Data, 2D Data, MetaData and something which is often overlooked, data hierarchy. 3D PDF as a container supports these requirements and because it is an open format and released to ISO, it is the perfect candidate for a long term archival and retrieval solution.

    Even In 10 to 15 years, if the Adobe reader is not around, the open documented standard will be. Hence anyone will be able to produce a tool or solution that will be able to read the 3D PDF per the format specification. And as technologies advance, and more PLM information is required to be “packed” into the PDF container, organizations like the 3D PDF Consortium are collaborating with ISVs, Government / Commercial body’s and most importantly end users to ensure that new requirements are being incorporated into the open format, and driving forward standards such as PDF/A, PDF/X and PDF/E.

  • beyondplm

    Doug, Thanks for the comment and insight! I agree 3D PDF used by many companies. I’m looking forward to see how 3D PDF story will evolve now… Best, Oleg

  • _

    I think the future is just around the 3D PDF, since Adobe Acrobat is installed in the majority of users. The optimum would in my opinion the decision would have been the arrival of the main developers of CAD systems to a common format in the face of 3D PDF. PDF only be able to make a 3D massive and accessible not only to users of CAD systems.

  • beyondplm

    Alexei, thanks for your comment! However, why do we need Adobe Acrobat? Why a browser is not good enough? Chrome, FF, even IE… Why to lock data inside of PDF file? Even if it is 3D :)… Have you heard about Web 3.0 concepts of “linked data”? Take a look on this — Just my thoughts, of course. Best, Oleg

  • beyondplm

    Craig, Thanks for commenting! I think, you nailed down the problem. I don’t think we have a solution these days. The companies that mostly affected are in aerospace, since they committed to keeping information for 50 years. If you haven’t seen it before, take a look on the project called – LOTAR ( Best, Oleg

  • beyondplm

    Rmcvay_98, I think your concern about size and reverse -engineering is valid. I’d prefer having fewer file-encapsulation and more online information available. Thanks for your commenting! Best, Oleg

  • beyondplm

    Christian, thanks for your comment! Data need to be consolidated and not separated by files. Best, Oleg

  • beyondplm

    Kalle, I completely agree with you. The biggest security breach is employees and personal computers/laptops, etc. Private cloud is an option for companies that can afford it. Others will slowly migrate to outsource/cloud/etc. options. What is the level of online/cloud system adoption in Finland? Is it different from US form your standpoint? Thanks for your comments! Best, Oleg

  • beyondplm

    Franco, thanks for commenting! I think, you are right. People are believing in PDF like a g-d. It is always here and always can be open. Not true anymore, especially if we are coming to more complicated data elements. My belief is more towards web-oriented data schemas combined with neutral geometry representations. Just my thougths… Oleg