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A New Dimension in Data Sharing


Boeing 787 program and B/E Aerospace seating products group put the 3D PDF system to use


At the beginning of 2012, the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner program had a corporate-wide digital repository of over 500,000 3D PDF documents, which had been accessed over 3 million times. If it wasn’t already obvious, these usage numbers should send a clear message to the aerospace manufacturing community: 3D PDF is more than just a data exchange or visualization format; it is a unique framework that truly allows manufacturers to achieve a full 3-D model-based workflow.

3D PDF has played a key role in supporting Boeing’s transition to a full 3-D model-based workflow, including supplier and customer communications. More specifically, 3D PDF has enabled Boeing to replace traditional 2-D engineering drawings with 3-D models that can be used to create more efficient processes for creating design reviews, data packages and even 3-D instructions. The move to a 3-D process requires packaging multiple types of digital data together, including 3-D parts and assemblies, and providing it to supplier and customers in a format that can be accessed easily and reliably without costs. Only 3D PDF is uniquely equipped to achieve this. The 3D PDF system includes search functionality: Users locate components within a complex assembly by clicking on the model itself or typing a component name or number into a dialog box.

Along with being the ISO-32000 open standard for document management, the PDF format allows the interplay or integration of 3-D data with unstructured data such as document text, metadata from line of business systems such as ERP, PLM, and shop-floor data, with audio, video, and animations. Additionally the ubiquity of free Adobe Reader, which is installed on 98% of internet-connected devices worldwide, allows 3D PDF users to avoid some key problems with proprietary 3-D CAD viewers that are impossible to standardize throughout the supply chain and which generally add costs to IT budgets to support. 

Speaking at the 2012 3D Collaboration and Interoperability Conference, David Briggs, the 787 Technical Fellow at Boeing Commercial Aircraft, provided insight into the use of 3D PDF as a critical tool for communicating design engineering data to Boeing customers with limited bandwidth.

“For our customers with limited bandwidth, who may not have a T1 line into Boeing, 3D PDF is the best way to get 3-D engineering data into them quickly and reliably,” said Briggs.

3D PDF files can be accessed much faster than native 3-D CAD data because 3D PDF Converter, the exclusive Adobe Acrobat 3-D software technology, reduces the original native CAD file by 95%. This allows manufacturers like Boeing to create huge digital repositories of 3D PDF documents equipped with design engineering content that can be used to communicate maintenance and overhaul procedures to customers or specifications to suppliers.

B/E Aerospace

While Boeing and other large manufacturers outside of aerospace have implemented 3-D data exchange processes with 3D PDF to enable more effective communication with their supply chain partners, some suppliers have implemented processes for using 3D PDF to communicate with manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus. B/E Aerospace is an advanced supplier in this particular area of 3-D data exchange. As the world’s leading supplier of seating products and solutions and leading distributor of fasteners and consumables for the commercial, business jet and military markets, B/E has worked to develop an advanced 3D PDF solution for delivering technical data packages to its customers.

David Ewing, manager of automation and process development for B/E’s seating products group, and his team comprised of engineers from a number of cross-functional groups have lead B/E’s efforts in this area. With more than 100 products along with 16 business jet seating patents, B/E has more certified seat designs than all other manufacturers combined.

“In the seating products group, we saw the value in 3D PDF as a tool to create a more thorough and expedient process for our customers to receive data packages,” comments Ewing. “As we learned more about 3D PDF, it was clear to us that implementing a fully-integrated 3D PDF solution would create more efficiency for us and our customers.”
While the core 3D PDF product, 3D PDF Converter, allows users to convert native CAD files to 3D PDF documents that can be viewed universally in free Adobe Reader, B/E engaged EOS Solutions (Rochester, MI) to configure a 3D PDF solution to its specific business processes and internal systems. EOS Solutions is the exclusive North American distributor of 3D PDF Converter solutions, and preferred provider of 3D PDF services, training and support. Tom Barth, EOS Solutions’ managing consultant, worked with B/E’s seating products engineering department to develop an automated solution for producing 3D PDF submittal packages. “We were able to work together to produce a robust 3D PDF template that created a standard automated solution for producing data packages for B/E’s seating products,” says Barth.B/E Aerospace uses a 3D PDF system to exchange data packages with customers of its Pinnacle slimline seats.

The 3D PDF template allowed B/E to pull 3-D engineering data with corresponding written information from its internal system and merge it into one 3D PDF document. Instead of providing tens of thousands of pages of documentation for each seating product, B/E is able to provide its customers with a single 3D PDF document that includes all of that information directly from the 3-D model. Search functionality built into the template allows B/E’s customers to simply search for individual components by number and name, or by just visually identifying the part in the 3-D model and selecting it. It’s important to note that manufacturers such as Boeing accept 3D PDF for documentation as well as a long-term data archiving format.

“Implementing 3D PDF into our processes for producing data packages has allowed the seating products department at B/E to totally bypass the 2-D drawing steps,” says Ewing. “That has resulted in a substantial reduction in hours previously required to produce those critical document for our customers.”

“The efficiencies that we have been able to create at B/E using 3D PDF translate up to our customers as well,” continues Ewing. “Delivering 3D PDF data packages to customers like Boeing allows them to verify our products faster and more effectively. Instead of searching through thousands of pages of documents, they can access all of that information from one interactive document.”

Enhancing Visual Manufacturing Planning

While aerospace suppliers like B/E work to continually develop even more efficient processes for communicating engineering design content to their customers using 3D PDF, visual manufacturing planning is another key area in the aerospace industry that will see major advancements because of 3D PDF. EOS Solutions has led the development of 3D PDF solutions that provide more reliable and efficient 3-D communication between engineering and other groups, such as manufacturing and maintenance.

Final assembly of the first Boeing 787 in 2007.  By the beginning of 2012, Dreamliner program had a corporate-wide digital repository of over 500,000 3D PDF documents, which had been accessed over 3 million times.“Highly skilled engineers and designers are spending valuable time taking screen shots of a 3-D model in their CAD system and then copying it into a PowerPoint slide,” comments Steve Prast, EOS Solutions’ founder and managing director. “And at the end of the day all you have are 2-D drawings that can still be hard to understand and if there are any changes, the whole cumbersome process must be done again.”

“With 3D PDF, aerospace manufacturers can generate step-by-step animated 3-D work instructions directly from the 3-D CAD model,” Prast continues. “Perhaps more importantly, aerospace manufacturers have the ability to configure those 3D PDF work instructions so the document is automatically updated when changes to the 3-D model or manufacturing process are made.” ✈ 


Edited by Senior Editor Michael C. Anderson from information supplied by EOS Solutions


This article was first published in the 2012 edition of the Aerospace and Defense Manufacturing Yearbook. 

Published Date : 9/1/2012

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