What’s New in SOLIDWORKS 2017: 3D PDF

The SOLIDWORKS 2017 release includes substantial enhancements on 3D PDF. A couple of examples were briefly mentioned in previous articles on MBD and the 3D PDF Template Editor, such as the automatic attachment of STEP 242 during the 3D PDF publishing step and usability improvements to the template editor. Now let’s take a deeper dive into two more 3D PDF additions in this article.

Two years ago, I worked with a tower crane manufacturer that was experimenting with the model-based definition (MBD) process. One of the challenges was that the 3D annotation texts looked too small and almost illegible in the context of its huge crane assemblies in a 3D PDF document. Figure 1 shows one example where the 118-ft (36-m) height callout and 180-ft (55-m) width callout on the dimension lines could hardly be found.

image001Figure 1. The illegible overall size dimensions of a tower crane assembly in 3D PDF.

The problem was that despite the largest text scale set in the 2015 version’s assembly, 50:1 as shown in Figure 2, it was still not big enough to appear legible in a published 3D PDF.

image002Figure 2. The largest annotation text scale available in SOLIDWORKS 2015 and 2016 was 50:1.

“Why can’t we customize the text scale? No matter how many predefined text scale options are shipped with the software, it will fall short in some extraordinarily large or small models designed by more than three million users around the world, ”I was thinking as I faced the unusable display shown in Figure 1.

Now you can customize text scale. In the MBD 2017 release, the text scale can be customized as shown in Figure 3.

image003Figure 3. The customizable annotation text scale in SOLIDWORKS 2017.

Therefore, the annotations look much clearer in the 3D PDF published in the 2017 version as shown in Figure 4.

image004Figure 4. The annotations look much clearer in a SOLIDWORKS 2017 3D PDF.

Ideally, the text scale should adjust automatically according to the model size in Adobe Reader. That way, you wouldn’t have to customize a text scale in SOLIDWORKS, publish a 3D PDF to check out the result and then go back to the software to make further adjustments if needed. In fact, you wouldn’t have to worry about the text scale at all if the tools can take care of it for you. I hope Adobe Reader can provide this capability in the future.

Another challenge with the tower crane was its 3D PDF file size. The SOLIDWORKS assembly model contained a large amount of details. The published 3D PDF file was around 60 MB and it took almost one minute to open the file on a typical computer. This particular manufacturer actually didn’t care too much about the accuracy of the 3D PDF. Its main goal was to email a 3D PDF file to its clients, who might not have SOLIDWORKS installed, to convey the appearance of the 3D product model along with the overall size dimensions. The 60-MB file size was too large for an email attachment and the one-minute file loading time could easily frustrate clients before the product even showed up.

I’m glad that MBD 2017 now provides multiple accuracy options on the 3D PDF publishing dialog as shown in Figure 5.

image005Figure 5. Multiple accuracy options on the SOLIDWORKS MBD 2017 3D PDF publishing dialog.

Table 1 summarizes the high-level interpretation of the accuracy options. You can find more technical specifications on the Adobe compression help page and the TechSoft 3D PDF Converter User Guide.

Table 1. The high-level interpretations of the accuracy options.

3D PDF accuracy options Interpretations Biggest possible differences from SOLIDWORKS models
Maximum Highest 3D PDF accuracy Within 0.001 mm
High Low compression, high accuracy 0.001 mm
Medium Medium compression, medium accuracy 0.01 mm
Low High compression, low accuracy 0.1 mm
Use lossy compression on tessellation Tessellation compression to polygons 0.1 mm

One point worth noting here is that 3D PDF as a derivative format published from SOLIDWORKS doesn’t keep 100 percent data fidelity from the software’s model. When 100 percent fidelity is needed, it’s always best to use the native models. For a 3D PDF file, the key question is how accurate it can be compared to its SOLIDWORKS model. As noted in Table 1, the difference can be controlled within 0.001 mm at the maximum accuracy, which makes the 3D PDF model accurate enough for most machining and inspection use cases. The other point is that the difference estimations shown in Table 1 are conservative. In a test as shown in Figure 6, the differences are actually much smaller. The designed radius in the software was 9.87654321 mm as indicated in the black annotations. Then the actual 3D PDF radiiper different publishing accuracy options are measured in red. As you may notice, even the radius per the low accuracy with lossy tessellation compression reached 9.877062 mm as shown on the left side of the figure, which was accurate to the second decimal place of 1 mm.

image006Figure 6. Actual 3D PDF differences from the designed radius in SOLIDWORKS.

Coming back to the large 3D PDF file size issue with the tower crane assembly, I published a new 3D PDF with the low accuracy option plus the lossy tessellation compression using MBD 2017. The file size now is about 6.5MB, which represents a 90-percent reduction from the previous 60-MB size—and is much friendlier for emails. It took about 10 seconds to load the file, or an 83-percent reduction from the previous one-minute loading time. Of course, the visual product presentation and the 3D callouts are unaffected.

I hope you find these two new 3D PDF features relevant and helpful. I’d love to hear your test results in the comment area below. Table 2 summarizes their capabilities and benefits.

Table 2. Two new 3D PDF features and benefits.

New features Benefits
Customize text scales Present legible annotations in extraordinarily large or small 3D PDF models in Adobe Reader
3D PDF accuracy and size controls Provide flexible accuracy options for different 3D PDF use cases (low accuracy for appearance presentations with small file sizes and faster loading time; high accuracy for machining and inspection needs with large file sizes)

To learn more about how this new release can help you with your MBD implementations, please visit the SOLIDWORKS 2017 launch site.

About the Author


Oboe Wu is a SOLIDWORKS MBD product manager with 20 years of experience in engineering and software. He is an advocate of model-based enterprise and smart manufacturing.

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