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Create interactive 3D PDFs with a new tool from Tech Soft 3D

A new tool enables the creation of 3D PDF documents, supporting model-based enterprise strategies; a report shows mixed results for manufacturing ERP system effectiveness.

Manufacturers now have a way to create interactive 3D PDF documents with Tetra4D Enrich, a recently released product from Tech Soft 3D.

The ability to produce 3D PDFs can help manufacturers implement model-based enterprise (MBE), a business strategy that uses model-based design activity to clarify manufacturing design intent, according to Dave Opsahl, Tech Soft 3D's vice president of corporate development. MBE can use information in many different forms, including nongraphic metadata, data from ERP systems, 2D graphic data from computer-aided design systems and now 3D models. Tetra4D Enrich is designed to enable this 3D modeling in the familiar PDF format.

"You always have a certain amount of nonvalue-added time in engineering that's there to address the need to clarify ambiguities in the documentation," Opsahl said. "MBE can drive clarity around what design intent is. We are seeing a very significant trend towards using 3D PDFs as a way of enabling the documentation to flow through these MBE processes."

Because 3D is just another data type that can be incorporated into PDF, companies can adapt it easily into their IT infrastructure, Opsahl explained. However, to do this previously, you needed a costly customized application or heavy programming expertise. Tetra4D Enrich enables anyone to create interactive 3D models in PDFs within Adobe Acrobat and without programming skills, according to the vendor.  

Eric Henschke, mechanical engineering manager with Fargo Automation, saw Tetra4D in November 2015, and decided that it was what his company needed to create 3D manufacturing process documents.

Fargo Automation, based in Fargo, N.D., builds custom packaging equipment mostly for pharmaceutical and medical device industries. The machines it builds are made for each customer specifically, so all the parts, drawings and assemblies are new every time, Henschke explained. They have been using PTC Creo software to create exploded views on static 2D documents, but were looking for a way to incorporate 3D into the process.

"We've always kept an eye on 3D PDFs as a possible opportunity. But up until now, it's always been difficult to get the 3D view and the dynamic list of the parts in the assembly to be created automatically, and that's what grabbed my eye when I first saw this product," Henschke said. "It offers pretty much exactly what we were looking for -- the ability to, without any manual labor required, set up a template, open up our assemblies into it, and get the dynamic 3D view with a dynamic list of the components in there that would highlight across each other and eliminate the need that we've required for creating exploded views."

Henschke noted that Tetra4D will make it easier to get 3D documentation to their customers, because virtually everyone can use PDFs with Adobe Reader. They considered other 3D documentation technology, but it would have required that customers install custom software to view the files. The documentation is also better.

"The old static prints are pretty limited," Henschke said. "If we give them something that's much more dynamic and useful, but still using the same basic software that everyone has, then there will be a lot less resistance to accepting that change in the type of documentation that we provide with our machines."

Fargo Automation currently has Tetra4D in beta testing, but plans to roll it out as soon as it's integrated with their process workflows.

Report shows mixed results for manufacturing ERP systems

Manufacturers continue to add inventory faster than gross domestic product (GDP) growth, and are increasingly turning to advanced information systems to manage this. However, the effectiveness of these technologies appears to be getting mixed results, according to a recent survey conducted by PwC US in collaboration with Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI).

According to the report, one of the biggest challenges that manufacturers face is managing the balance between keeping inventory levels and customer satisfaction. Companies need to get goods to customers, but nobody wants to have expensive stacks of goods sitting in inventory. To reduce inventory and become more efficient, manufacturers have turned to advanced information systems -- ERP. But is this really working?

Using macroeconomic data from the U.S. Census Bureau and other sources, the report said that inventories for U.S. manufacturers have grown faster than the rate of GDP growth for the past six years. At the same time, the rate of inventory turns has been declining, indicating that manufacturers are getting less efficient in moving goods to customers. PwC and MAPI surveyed senior executives in 75 global manufacturers to determine the effectiveness of using ERP systems to manage inventory. The results were largely a mixed bag.

The survey reports that 37% of respondents said their core ERP was either not very effective or ineffective in enabling agility, responsiveness and operating flexibility. The rest of the respondents reported their core ERP was either very effective or effective, and of these, 60% said that their supply chain visibility (SCV) systems were very effective or effective in replacing inventory and costs with actionable and timely data.

The effectiveness of these systems appears to have an impact on the bottom line. Companies that reported ineffective ERP systems had an average annual erosion of 3.5%, while those with effective systems had an annual growth of 2%. Companies with effective ERP and SCV systems did even better, with growth of 2.4%

However, companies with effective systems still experience inventory growth and supply chain issues, according to the report. The likely reason is faulty or incomplete data, because 50% of respondents were dissatisfied with data quality.

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