Taking CAD out of the design office and on to the factory floor

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4 mins

Over the last 30 years, engineering design has been transformed by the digital era; using mechanical 3D CAD systems (eg. CATIA V5, NX, Creo) has practically made the traditional drafting methods that saw pen and paper craft 2D drawings-essential for the creation of products, obsolete.

2D Drawings were, and still are, a specialised skill of the engineering design world, and require specialist knowledge to be able to create and consume the content, as well as be able to access the physical drawing; no different to the 3D CAD design data of today.

But, what doesn’t change is the necessity to access design data outside of the engineering department; it’s not just the designers who need access to 2D drawings and 3D CAD data. This can raise some issues if you don’t have the expertise, as expensive 3D CAD systems are not accessible to all of those that may need access to this information. Accordingly, a lot of companies are also still using 2D drawings and printed documents in other processes that require access to design data, such as Purchasing, Manufacturing, Quality and Maintenance processes.

But there is now a new document format that is changing the way that CAD data can distributed amongst those on the factory floor and beyond that facilitates both 2D and 3D data - 3D PDF


At a top level, a 3D PDF is a standard Adobe PDF document (which many of us are familiar with) containing interactive 3D content; in this case, a 3D CAD model.

A 3D PDF can be viewed by anyone that has access to Adobe Reader. The 3D PDF can be used to show engineering data such as CAD geometry, product manufacturing information (PMI), annotations, measurements and bills of materials (BOMs).

Because of the universal adoption and acceptance of standard PDF documents, 3D PDF’s make it easier for CAD data to be shared amongst departments, organisations and supply chains and to be incorporated into common documentation, such as Work Instructions, which this post will look at in more detail below.

Work Instructions

Once a product design is complete an assembly process needs to be developed for the assembly teams to follow. These process steps are usually laid out in a work instructions document.

Each stage is laid out in a step-by-step format, explaining what do, what parts or materials are needed and how they come together. Historically, these documents have been constructed using technical drawings, text, photographs and tabled information that is manually brought together by engineers in a word format, and then often printed for use on the shop floor. The actual 3D CAD design model is rarely used or incorporated.

However, by implementing 3D PDF for Work Instructions, the digital document can take a user step-by-step through the assembly/disassembly process using the original 3D CAD model. This is unlike a printed version of the instructions which might show a 3D representation; this is a live digital model that can be interacted with, but without the necessary CAD skills, or the expensive hardware.

You can download an example Work Instructions 3D PDF.

There are a number of benefits from choosing interactive 3D PDF’s to replace paper work instructions documents:

· Environmentally friendly; it becomes a paperless process.

· Cost effective. By going digital you save money on printing, storage, distribution and destruction. All you need is the free Adobe reader, which most workstations have already installed. 3D PDF’s are lightweight enough that they can be sent by email.

· Access & Security. You can control who has access to what information as 3D PDF’s can be password protected.

· Interactivity. Digital Work Instructions allow you to bring your instructions to life with interactive 3D content. You can rotate, zoom, cross section and mark up the CAD models.

· Simplified maintenance. When engineering changes occur or procedures are revised, updates to work instructions previously deployed can be done faster.

As well as access to the original CAD designs, additional documentation such as spreadsheets, video and hyperlinks can be embedded into the document. This is useful if the descriptions, views and icons do not represent enough detail for a particular operation. Each step can contain its own additional documentation; accordingly, 3D PDF’s can become an incredibly rich source of information, but they remain sufficiently lightweight enough to enable easy sharing.

Users of the 3D PDF document benefit from improved visualization and better understanding of the data, significantly reducing the time taken to understand the document and preventing costly mistakes caused by misinterpretation.

By using such a universally accepted format, and making the design sharing process digital, 3D PDF is a great way of leveraging CAD and PLM assets, and creating documentation that simplifies everyday engineering and manufacturing tasks.

For more info on 3D PDF’s and how Theorem’s CADPublish products can easily create 3D PDF’s for your organisation, visit our CADPublish page