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software development kits, SDK, Tech Soft 3D, design hardware and software, engineering data

Unlocking Engineering Data for Downstream Consumption is Now a Must

Sharing robust CAD files is many formats has become necessary. Software development kits can streamline the process.

As strategic product-development improvement initiatives such as Industry 4.0, the digital twin, Model-Based Definition (MBD), and the Model-Based Enterprise (MBE) have taken hold across an ever-increasing number of industries, engineering software companies have been on the front lines, propelling these movements forward via technology. Thanks to their tools, manufacturers have been able to create fully annotated 3D models that include all of the product manufacturing information (PMI) necessary to define, manufacture and control a product.

Digital model containing product manufacturing information (PMI) necessary to define, manufacture and control a product.

However, it’s no longer enough to enable engineers to create a single master model. People need an efficient way to share that information downstream of engineering and have it be easily consumed by a wide range of audiences for a host of different uses — such as the machinists who are making the product, the suppliers who want to bid on supporting it, the technicians who will be servicing it, and so on.

Simply put: if you’re an engineering software vendor, making product information available for consumption outside of your application is now a critical part of your application’s value proposition —and it’s where customers will be won and lost.

Room for Improvement

People have been improvising ways to share engineering data downstream for years. Unfortunately, the results have been less than ideal, often requiring information to be dumbed down or otherwise degraded. For example, CAD models might be transformed into screenshots —and while this might give users an idea of what the part looks like in one orientation, it offers no way to interrogate the rest of the model. In other scenarios, information attached to 3D models, like a parts list, might be exported as an Excel spreadsheet — resulting in a separate document to manage and update throughout the product lifecycle.

These approaches to sharing information frequently introduce inefficiencies into the manufacturing process. A study by Lifecycle Insights reported that on average, per week, engineers spend 21.3 hours creating drawings; 6.4 hours answering questions or clarifying drawings; and 5.5 hours generating additional drawing documentation. Meanwhile, on average, per week, machinists spend 8.3 hours creating manufacturing or quality documentation; 4.7 hours answering questions or clarifying documentation; and 4.1 hours generating additional documentation.

Clearly, there is room for improvement. But how best to achieve it?

Multiple Outputs Unlock Your Data

To unlock their engineering data for downstream consumption, today’s applications need the ability to publish 3D data in a variety of outputs that can serve different use cases and workflows:

  • Output 1: CAD standards for interoperability and archiving

Publishing a 3D model in formats such as STEP, JT, 3MF, or other industry standards is very useful for archiving purposes: if you have a product with a long lifecycle, publishing out to a standard ensures that people will still be able to consume the design information decades later, even if the original design vendor is no longer around. This type of output is also very useful for interoperability purposes, enabling downstream users to leverage the model data in other applications.

  • Output 2: HTML/PDF for viewing and collaboration

Publishing your data as an HTML page or a PDF enables anyone downstream to view and interact with your model — with no need for a proprietary viewer or CAD system. This output can be very useful for simple collaboration and communication workflows, particularly around CAD data. If there is an individual who needs to provide some quick feedback or comments on a design, this is a quick way for them to do so, by viewing 3D models in a browser or in Adobe Reader.

  • Output 3: Rich, interactive 3D PDF for generating 3D PDF “apps”

Publishing out data as an interactive 3D PDF enables you to support many different workflows, such as generating smart reports, work instructions, Technical Data Packages, and more. Creating relationships between graphical and non-graphical information can make data come alive, producing an interactive “app like” experience. Best of all, anyone can consume these critical documents with the free Adobe Reader. 

Not every engineering software package has these outputs natively built in, of course. This is where software development kits (SDK) such as HOOPS Publish can come into play, enabling software development teams to easily add simple or complex document output capabilities into existing applications.

SDKs can read source 3D data from a range of industry-standard formats such as STEP, IGES, SAT, XT, and IFC and publish to standards such as STEP, JT, IGES, 3MF, STL, and VRML. It can also publish out to HTML or to a 3D PDF file in either U3D format or Adobe’s preferred Product Representation Compact (PRC) format. The advantage of PRC is that it provides a highly accurate and highly compressed format for describing 3D CAD models, including Assembly Structure, B-Rep, Geometry, and PMI (both graphical and semantic).

What all this means is that if users want to get data out of their engineering applications and use that data later in the product lifecycle, SDKs like HOOPS Publish can make it possible. For example, a CAD application can easily create a lightweight PDF of a 3D model for archiving, while a metrology application can push out an inspections report as an interactive 3D PDF, and so on. It’s all about the ability to generate an output that satisfies a specific user need as the data flows downstream.

Interactive 3D PDF example.

What Customers Want

It’s important to remember that the purpose of unlocking engineering data for downstream consumption is, ultimately, to make life easier for customers. The ability to freely leverage the information contained in a master model offers a lot of potential for making processes more efficient, getting products out faster, lowering costs, and increasing profit margins.

That’s what customers are looking for from today’s engineering software applications —and a big part of the value that software vendors provide is reduced if data is not able to be transmitted and consumed by the people who need to use it. Data that can be easily leveraged downstream is no longer a nice-to-have —it’s a must.

Dave Opsahl is VP of corporate devolpment at Tech Soft 3D,  which provides development tools to help software teams deliver applications. The company has developed a 3D format that is part of the PDF standard and also provides the HOOPS 3D rendering engine.

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