Acrobat 3D Targets CAD/CAM

Acrobat 3D, available Monday, will let engineers share 3-D designs and schematics without exposing potentially secure underlying equations and data, an Adobe executive said. The software captures OpenGL data, but not metadata.

Many manufacturing companies already use Acrobat in their human resources, IT, finance, legal and other horizontal applications. Acrobat 3D will enable technical professionals -- engineers and designers -- to export 3-D designs created in AutoCAD, Catia and other applications to others in the supply chain, said Rak Bhalla, product manager at San Jose-based Adobe.

"This is a high-level business issue. Manufacturers compete in a global market and product lifecycles that were three years are now six months," Bhalla said. Acrobat 3D, in theory, could ease communication of design information with often far-flung suppliers and design partners, speeding production and documentation, according to Adobe.

"What typically happens now is that the designer takes 2-D snapshots and e-mails them to suppliers and vendors, who then typically need to see the design from other angles." Bhalla said.

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With Acrobat 3D, recipients using an updated Acrobat reader, due next month, can view and rotate drawings but will not have access to underlying data they are not authorized to see. The creator could expose layers of drawings that each supplier needs to see but lock down non-pertinent parts of the drawing. Individuals responsible for technical documentation will be able to see what they need to see to create schematics.

Acrobat 3D, which carries a $995 suggested list, thus lets engineers provide accurate information to those in the supply chain who need to know it without sharing the native files or "crown jewels," Bhalla said. Those with Acrobat 7 Professional can upgrade to the new software for $545, the company said.

Bhalla acknowledged that what Adobe is doing could compete with work that CAD vendors are also working on, but he positioned the new product as a value-add to many of those wares.

Adobe says it is partnering with CAD players PTC, UGS and SolidWorks. Autodesk, the Sausalito, Calif.-based leader in PC-based CAD, is conspicuous by its absence from this list.

Initially, Adobe is targeting discrete manufacturing but will the company plans to attack architecture engineering and construction (AEC) customers in the near term, according to Bhalla.

Bhalla said Acrobat 3D will be a natural upsell or incremental selling opportunity for Adobe partners into current and new accounts.

Acrobat represents a $600-million-a-year business for Adobe, which just closed its $3.4 billion buyout of Macromedia.

Microsoft, which already competes with Adobe on some fronts, appears to be making a move on the PDF/Acrobat franchise as well.

PDF, or the Portable Document Format, has become so entrenched as a de facto standard for documents, that even rival software companies are one-upping each other on PDF support.

Microsoft has said that its upcoming Office 12 applications will be able to save to PDF, as well as their native formats, something that now requires a third-party application. Corel has long offered that capability and its newest WordPerfect Office applications will now offer two-way interoperability with PDFs, meaning that WordPerfect can open PDF files and tweak them.