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From CAD User Mechanical Magazine Vol 22 No 4 - APRIL/MAY 2009
Embedding interactive 3D models in digital documents is easy using QuadriSpace's Pages3D, says David Chadwick
One of the biggest advantages of parametric modelling is that all of the necessary accoutrements of a company's products - be it a car, aeroplane or a lowly kettle - can start to be put together even whilst the design process is going on. You can't deliver a car to a customer without a maintenance manual, and you can't train up your engineers on servicing a lawnmower without comprehensive training manuals. In the good old days (and perhaps there are some companies still using these methods) designers had to hand their drawings and models over to technical illustrators, with close to a finished product, because any major changes meant that the process had to be started over again.
They were then re-drawn by hand in that unambiguous style that they use, with callouts and labels added, and with lists of components. Bills of Material (BOM) also had to be compiled from the designers data - again, manually extracted and cobbled together. The ability to use the designer's 3D model and its attributes has dramatically improved the role of the technical illustrator. In fact, you might even say it has gone beyond that - it has potentially sounded the death knell of the technical illustrator, as the latest software makes it so easy for the designer himself to convert his life-like rendered images into technical illustrations, and automatically extract the data from the model to populate the printed document's pages. In defence of the technical illustrator, one might say that his role is different to that of the designer, and that his expertise lies in the ability to take the 3D model and present it in a way that his audience would more readily understand - rather than having to think about how the potential user views the product.
That is absolutely correct when you consider converting 3D information into a 2D format - encapsulating the product information on the pages of a manual. We have moved on though, and now the emphasis is on dropping a fully interactive 3D model onto a page, which the reader can navigate through and around, and interrogate as though he was actually using the very software that designed it. And that ability, at the very least, means that the designer has to work more closely with the technical illustrator, or that the designer usurps the role himself - through his total knowledge of how his design works, and how best to demonstrate that in 3D.
QUADRISPACE DOCUMENTS 3D
So now we have the ability to drop interactive 3D models into a digital document, the question remains - how easy is it to do that, and what tools do we need? The receiving end is pretty straightforward. Almost any document media that will accept graphics can be used to take 3D models on board - from the free PDF readers that every serious computer user already has, to all Microsoft Office documents, including PowerPoint and even Excel. Getting them there requires software like QuadriSpace's Pages3D, one of the modules of its Document3D technical publishing software suite. Pages3D is a complete page authoring application that lets users create documents with embedded 3D models. And now I am going to contradict myself, as the software comes with powerful 3D tools that make the job of authoring technical documents nice and easy, and, because you can drag and drop in completed models from a number of CAD sources, you don't need to be technically proficient, neither do you need the parent application to use it! But then, again, nice and easy might also be how a designer would want it, as well. In fact the closer the technical document creation process is to the design process, the earlier the work can start on it, as changes to the design are automatically absorbed, modifying the embedded model in the Pages3D document.
HOW IT LOOKS
With deference to non-technical users, QuadriSpace has improved the user interface, making it similar to the latest version of MS PowerPoint, with its ribbon user interface. This allows users to set up their own work area, and organise all the tools they will need. Opening or starting a document, and turning off the Edit Page button, gives users access to a range of functions, selected by group tags on a Quick Access Toolbar - Insert, Layout, Illustrate, 3D View, Model and Publish. Some of these have extended properties that appear in a further display panel, providing detailed information on the project, model, explode steps, and so on.
HOW IT WORKS
The Home ribbon is used to set up the project and import 2D drawings and 3D models. Once done, jumping straight to the Insert ribbon gives you the meat of the software. It really is very simple to drop in a 3D model, position it using the pan, zoom and rotate buttons, and then to start adding text, arrows and other shapes, and even parts tables. And, as we are playing around
with a 3D model here, descriptions, sketches and arrows etc., can be added on specific 3D planes so that they stay aligned with the model as it rotates!
If you are adding parts tables the software asks whether you want to link to the original model - in case of future modifications and then automatically compiles a parts list from the model's components! Here you can also add part, topic or step text - the part text also being dynamically linked to the model.
This means that you can set up a document and embed interactive buttons, or use the text to highlight individual parts in the 3D model. Buttons can also be set up to initiate animations between illustrations from the Insert ribbon.
In this ribbon, you can also modify the 3D View to show wire-frame or walkthrough views, with the properties dialogue box showing appropriate settings for cameras, etc. And, if we jump straight to the 3D View box, we are able to change the render style of the 3D object - playing around with drawing styles, background colours, lighting and material effects, edges, fades, trails - all of the little tricks that technical illustrators use to highlight aspects of their models. Give the style chosen a name, and it can be used throughout a document for consistency in appearance.
THE MODEL RIBBON
The Layout ribbons is more or less admin related and self explanatory. The Illustrated ribbon allows users to capture illustrations, memorise 3D views and add markups, and is also easy to use. For the real action, though, you need the Model ribbon. This is where you can create your animations and
exploded views - without having to use 3D CAD software.
To create an exploded view all you have to do is click on the Exploded View icon, and select New Exploded View. After giving it a name, go to Move Parts on the same ribbon, select each part on the 3D View, and drag it out - repeating it with each part until you are satisfied with the result. Holding down the Ctrl key whilst you do this enables you to select multiple parts. After finishing the edit, you can use the left and right arrows in the same group to change the order of steps in the explode.
The Model ribbon also includes functions for modifying part materials and for creating and editing BOMs and parts lists and - an important function - for updating the model by linking it to the original 3D Model source.
PUBLISHING IN PAGES3D
The last ribbon - Publish - does just that. It provides the steps that you need to publish your 3D models in a variety of media: by email, to the Web, to an executable file, to CD or to the creation of a PDF document. Where necessary - PDF, for example - a supplementary dialogue box pops up, so that you can add admin detail.
QuadriSpace's claim that using their software to create standard technical (Publisher3D) and interactive 3D documents (Pages3D) is as easy as using Microsoft Office applications is fully justified. Having never used the software before, I was creating my animated exploded views within a couple of hours of opening the box. What more can I say?
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