What’s New in SOLIDWORKS 2017: More Tools for 3D PDF

We touched upon several new 3D PDF enhancements in the SOLIDWORKS MBD 2017 release in a previous article, “What’s New in SOLIDWORKS 2017: 3D PDF,” such as the customizable text scale and the PDF accuracy controls. There are many more to cover, so in this article, let’s continue looking into four more examples.

In design communications, there are many technical documents needed besides the 3D models. As a result, the U.S. military standard MIL-STD-31000A:2013 proposed a term called a technical data package (TDP), which includes models, drawings, associated lists, specifications, standards, quality assurance provisions, software documentation, packaging details and so on, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. The hierarchical breakdown of the data and possible documents in a TDP. (Image courtesy of U.S. Department of Defense.)

In order to build a TDP to comply with this military standard, manufacturers in the defense supply chain have been attaching documents to the 3D PDF file as a container using a wide variety of tools. The good news is that the free Adobe Reader supports adding attachments as comments as shared in this blog post, but the problem is that it only allows selecting one document per comment. In a TDP, there could be many documents to go into a package, so attaching them one by one could be tedious, time consuming and error prone.

Now in MBD 2017, you can select multiple files at the same time to attach to a 3D PDF on the publishing dialog as shown on the left in Figure 2. In the Adobe Reader window on the right, you may see the list of attachments inside a 3D PDF container.

Figure 2. Select multiple files to attach to a 3D PDF in the publishing dialog.

By the way, as shared in a previous article, “What’s New in SOLIDWORKS 2017: MBD,” you can also check the box “Create and attach STEP 242” at the lower-left corner of Figure 2. STEP 242 is a neutral format published as the ISO 10303-242:2014 standard, which paid special attention to supporting 3D product and manufacturing information (PMI). So this new checkbox in MBD 2017 allows a corresponding STEP 242 file to be created automatically in the background and attached as part of the technical data package.

After the publishing step, let’s take a look into the published document content and explore several display improvements. As discussed in an earlier article, SOLIDWORKS MBD 3D PDF supports multiple configurations captured in multiple 3D views in one document. However, the problem with the previous releases was that when you switched between the views representing different configurations, the independent viewport updated to display the matching configuration, but the configuration-specific properties didn’t update in the viewport or on the text-based sheet areas. Therefore, there could be mismatches between the model and its properties, leading to miscommunications. This issue was discussed in a forum topic and has been a key gap for some manufacturers.

MBD 2017 now promises a solution. The key is first to capture the configuration-specific properties in notes or tables as 3D Views in SOLIDWORKS MBD and then to populate them in the independent viewports into a 3D PDF document. Figure 3 shows a side-by-side comparison between two configurations in two viewports. Please note the configuration-specific properties such as material, mass and approval date in the note and table are updated on the right to match the new configuration, while generic properties such as “Part number” and “Drawn by” stayed the same.

Figure 3. Display configuration specific properties in a 3D PDF.

It’s worth noting that these property texts must be displayed in viewports to update properly in response to configuration changes. They won’t update if they are on the sheet areas outside of viewports.

Speaking of viewport displays, in addition to the models, notes and tables, supplementary geometries such as center axes, sheet metal bend lines, exploded lines and profile sketches are often important to present to facilitate technical communications. As shown in Figures 4, 5 and 6, the 3D PDF published by MBD 2017 can display these supplementary geometries as gray sketches. As you may notice, these elements are solid lines rather than dashes or dotted lines. This is due to a limitation today with the Adobe Reader 3D content, which doesn’t support these line styles yet.

Figure 4. Center axes display in 3D PDF.

Figure 5. Sheet metal bend lines display and the model tree sketches in 3D PDF.

Figure 6. Exploded lines display in 3D PDF.

As suggested in Figure 5, all the display elements in the viewport bear their corresponding model tree nodes in Adobe Reader, such as the sheet metal bend lines and bounding boxes, which provides a nice tool to match and locate a large amount of display content thanks to the cross-highlighting capability. You can also control their visibilities by checking or unchecking the boxes in front of the tree nodes.

To further assist the usage of this model tree tool, MBD 2017 has added a neat improvement to incorporate the DimXpert tree node names into the 3D PDF model tree node names as shown in Figure 7. The goal is not only to preserve the user inputs from SOLIDWORKS to 3D PDF, but also to comply with industry or company standards whose naming conventions may require 3D annotation names to be descriptive and meaningful for clearer communications. You may have noticed that the sequences of the annotation nodes as shown in Figure 7 from left to right don’t exactly match yet. I hope it will be addressed in future releases.

Figure 7. Inherit 3D annotation names from SOLIDWORKS to 3D PDF.

Now let’s wrap up this article with a quick summary in Table 1. To learn more about how this new release can help you with your MBD implementation, please visit the SOLIDWORKS 2017 launch site.

Table 1. New 3D PDF features and benefits.

New features Benefits

Attach multiple files upon publishing a 3D PDF
Attach multiple
files all together rather than one attachment at a time. Build a
technical data package to comply with MIL-STD-31000A:2013.

Present configuration specific properties
Update the
properties upon switching configurations to present the most accurate
and relevant information.

Display supplementary geometries in 3D PDF
Present center
axes, sheet metal bend lines, exploded lines and profile sketches to
convey design requirements.

Inherit 3D annotation names from SOLIDWORKS to 3D PDF
Comply with
industry or company standard naming conventions for clearer design
communications and to preserve user inputs.

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 (MBE) and smart manufacturing.  

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