10 Mar THE FUTURE LOOKS BRIGHT FOR 3D PDF. AGAIN.

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First of all, 6 years is not really a long time in file format years :-). But I still think that this is a really good question and thought I would explore why the future looks bright for 3D PDF…

At the beginning of 2009, 3D PDF looked as if it was on the verge of really taking off in heavy manufacturing. Adobe had turned all of the format over to ISO for standardization. Adobe Acrobat Pro Extended 9 had achieved the holy grail of translating geometry, metadata and visualization data that included product and manufacturing information (PMI) from the big 3 CAD applications; CATIA, NX and Pro/Engineer (Creo). Most large automotive and aerospace companies had pilot projects in place using 3D PDF. The US Army was publicizing their successful pilot projects that eventually led to the addition of 3D PDF to MIL-STD-31000A. SolidWorks and Creo were natively exporting 3D PDF files. 3D PDF was poised to be the open interoperable format that the engineering and manufacturing markets had been searching for.

And then came fall of 2009. Adobe needed to cut their operating costs and adopted a vertical market strategy that slashed their manufacturing and geospatial efforts. Their 3D applications were turned over to two of their smaller partners (Tech Soft 3D and PROSTEP). If you didn’t read the Adobe announcement of this, you can find it here. I think that it is worth a read. Shortly afterwards, they took all of the 3D PDF creation capability out of Adobe Acrobat X. It was difficult to believe that 3D would be part of Adobe’s future, even though they publically stated that they would continue to support it.

After 2009, the market rapidly lost confidence in 3D PDF. Not in the format itself, but in its future. There were precious few announcements of new projects launched using 3D PDF. And the automotive industry took a sharp turn to rapidly adopt and standardize the JT format. It was hard to be optimistic about the formats future.

PDF would have easily died if it wasn’t such an extremely capable format. Most companies who were already heavily invested in 3D PDF never turned away from it (hurray Boeing!). It turns out that there are many things that you can do with PDF that are simply impossible with other CAD formats (like controlling the interactive behavior of the document using JavaScript). And it is one of the rare CAD formats that actually complements, rather than competes with, other 3D formats (like STEP).

Fast forward to 2016 and things look quite a bit better. Manufacturing is moving away from drawings and towards annotating the 3D model with all the required manufacturing information (MBD). Adobe has continued to support 3D in both Acrobat and the Reader (just like they said they would). Photoshop can read and write 3D PDF files. Adobe has always been a print company, so it is natural that they would be interested in 3D printing (as evidenced by this recent Adobe announcement). So after a bit more than 6 years, we appear to be back to a tipping point for 3D PDF, where confidence intersects with capability. The future looks bright for 3D PDF. Indeed.

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