A decade ago, still in the relatively early days of computing before the flowering of the Web, the ever-growing number of file formats was driving AEC users nearly mad. Everyone was looking for something that would distill all the data into a single, simple format for information sharing, but that Holy Grail went undiscovered for a long time.
That's why Adobe Systems' introduction of the Portable Document Format a decade ago was greeted with such great applause as it began its slow and steady adoption into the fabric of everyday computing.
Today, nearly a half billion copies of the San Jose, Calif.-based firm's no-cost file reader are in circulation, and many Building Team users rely on it every day.
But the PDF format has hardly been a panacea for Building Teams. Text-oriented data has come through quite nicely, with a savvy computer user able to run a simple character recognition program to convert a PDF document back into a fully editable word-processing document.
But graphics have come through in a form that many AEC users find unacceptable for any kind of serious sharing, especially for the data-laden drawings integral to the team-based building process.
Of course, going back before the introduction of PDF, the world of computer-aided design struggled with this same issue of file-format compatibility and data sharing, with not nearly the success of the PDF. Leading software vendors have come out with standards, partnerships, plug-ins, and other approaches, all in the hope of enabling their users to share files and data.
Two recent initiatives signal a promising change for AEC software users eager to integrate workflow in their operations.
One initiative involves Adobe itself, which announced last year that it would be collaborating with Exton, Pa., software vendor Bentley Systems on optimizing PDF to better address the complexities of AEC information and document workflows.
The rationale given for this joint venture was that, with documentation being the basis for product and services delivery, the intricate design/build/operate phases of the AEC life cycle encompass a heterogeneous mix of related information, including 3-D models, 2-D drawings, and written specifications. "Document sets serve as the currency of AEC projects and become the books of record for large, as-built assets. Architects, engineers, and contractors require a safe, small, smart format to globally share and archive these sets," according to the announcement.
"Our users are asking for broader and fewer standards," said A.B. "Buddy" Cleveland, Bentley's senior vice president and general manager. "As we contemplated our Web distribution and sharing strategy, we faced the question, Does AEC need another format?" Cleveland responded negatively to his own question, stating that Adobe Reader's widespread distribution made PDF and its network effect accessible to the AEC industry. He called PDF "the ideal format for sharing documents in all stages of the project life cycle."
This month, the two firms are scheduled announce specifics of how they will leverage the strengths of PDF and Adobe Acrobat software to deliver enhanced document solutions for the AEC project life cycle.
The companies will detail the optimization of the PDF solution achieved by the joint development, including the ability to create, navigate, and query PDF sets from within Bentley products.
As part of the relationship, Bentley is licensing the Adobe PDF Library to integrate PDF creation directly into its proprietary technology. As a result, users will be able to utilize PDF for document sharing and archiving from within the MicroStation desktop and ProjectWise server products.
The joint venture, says Ivan Koon, SVP of Adobe's ePaper Business Unit, will "provide professional users an even more powerful set of tools for streamlining AEC document processes with Acrobat software."
Meanwhile, CAD vendor Autodesk Inc., San Rafael, Calif., has updated its version of the portable document originally known as Drawing Web Format and now called Design Web Format. DWF emerged in the mid-1990s when the initial Web craze was raging, and it enabled users to share, mark up, and print AutoCAD drawings without actually having a copy of the CAD program.
Autodesk has introduced Autodesk Express Viewer 4, the latest of its free, downloadable applications for viewing and printing DWF drawings created by architects and engineers.
According to Autodesk, Express Viewer enables professionals in the design, manufacturing, and infrastructure markets to share, collaborate on, and print design drawings saved in the Design Web Format. The Express Viewer application supports the high-fidelity viewing and printing of DWF files — the open, non-editable secure files that preserve complex information users would experience when working with native AutoCAD files.
Adoption of Autodesk Express Viewer for daily exchange and communication of design information continues to increase dramatically, nearly doubling over the last three months to an estimated 1 million users, according to Tony Peach, director of DWF strategy for Autodesk.