Abstract: Today’s companies have a huge investment in 3Dproduct designs. Using 3D CAD models and data directly to create product documents greatly reduces product time-to-market and lifecycle costs. Product documentation software provides these capabilities. To be effective, product documentation software should be easy, affordable, and offer a complete end-to-end solution. Unfortunately most of today’s applications are expensive, unnecessarily complicated and still require multiple programs to publish final documents.
This white paper will discuss how product documentation can benefit your company and what software attributes should be considered when choosing a solution. The right software will result in immediate benefits for designers, engineers, technical publication teams and everyone involved with your product’s launch and maintenance. Customers that implement product documentation software report huge savings for manufacturing work instructions, technical publications, illustrated parts catalogs and product information brochures.
Product Documentation Software: Six Major Benefits
Minimize engineering involvement
3D product design information typically resides in design and engineering departments and is not available to downstream users, such as manufacturing, technical publications, etc. As a consequence, engineers and designers can spend 25-40% of their effort generating illustrations, images, views and data packets in support of documentation efforts.
By providing a lightweight packet of the 3D model and data to the downstream user, engineers and designers can minimize their involvement in product documentation.
Increase effectiveness of documentation
Documentation teams often use a time consuming, multi-step, iterative process with engineers to converge on the desired view or illustration for the documents. This cycle requires considerable time and communications for both documentation teams and engineers.
By having the 3D model and data available, documentation teams can edit and create the required views without extensively involving the engineers and designers.
Current processes usually require multiple translations, transfers, rendering and reworks. Each of these steps creates an opportunity to introduce errors.
By creating the illustrations directly from the original design information with minimal translations and transfers, the number of errors is significantly reduced.
Reduce time to market
Often documentation efforts pace the product manufacturing and release. This occurs largely because the documentation does not begin until the design is complete. The current process requires documents to be created toward the end of the product design period, or worst case, after the product is available and ready to be photographed.
By essentially eliminating the iterative process between designers and the documentation team, the time to market for most products can be dramatically reduced. Product documentation software allows technical writers to begin the creation of communications sooner and update as the product design is revised. In addition, since the design is being used directly, the documentation can be completed more efficiently and with fewer errors.
Reduce product lifecycle costs
Significant product costs result from the various documentation requirements and from the continual update. Current processes involve multiple software applications and translations and accommodate very little reuse of illustrations and content.
SolidWorks ---------> Photoshop ----------> Word ------------> Acrobat
Typical process includes multiple steps with multiple software tools to create documents.
Product documentation software facilitates extensive reuse of illustrations, text and layout, the creation and sustainment of product documents is accomplished at less cost.
--- Product Documentation Software ---
Some solutions support end-to-end document publishing with a single application.
Product information is increasingly being shared throughout the enterprise and with international partners, suppliers and customers. Pictures convey information much more effectively than words and interactive 3D conveys information more effectively than pictures, particularly across language and cultural barriers.
Product documentation software captures images and lightweight, interactive 3D models with markups, descriptive text and predefined views for easy electronic or printed distribution. This enhances understanding and improves product communication.
Customers report major savings from Product Documentation Software
The move to Product Documentation software is driven by business pressures on time to market, product lifecycle costs and return on investment. Since 3D CAD has become so pervasive, the drive to reduce barriers between design engineering and downstream business functions is accelerating. Product Documentation software typically produces immediate returns to engineering, manufacturing and technical publications organizations.
After implementing a product documentation solution, companies are able to leverage their existing 3D CAD files to quickly create supporting deliverables. This process invariable results in the following proven benefits:
· 80% improvement in documenter productivity
· 25% less engineer time required
· 25% faster time-to-market
· 30% faster training
For example, a large equipments manufacturer reports: “We immediately saved 88% of documentation cost of generating illustrations for a parts catalog by using the QuadriSpace solution.” These savings are realized by having the lightweight model and associated data immediately available without the need for extra CAD seats. Model editing, markup, and publication to required formats are achieved quickly in a single, powerful software application.
A medical devices customer reports: “a 30% reduction in time and cost for creating interactive, manufacturing work instructions and additional costs are saved by reduced training and increased flexibility in the work assignments”. Additional savings are created by ‘automatically’ updating instructions when a part changes.
A heavy machinery manufacturer reports: “an 83% reduction in time for creating illustrations for product information manuals”. The extensive model editing, customizable render styles, markups and publishing options are all integrated into a single software application that enables an efficient workflow without the involvement of designers and engineers and without using CAD seats.
Additional savings in time and effort are achieved by using a single, full capability, integrated solution that is structured for product documentation.
Key Attributes of Product Documentation Software
Most product documentation software is only useful for a single aspect of the process. For example many viewer-like products create images that are then inserted into a page design program. In addition, page design programs do not support 3D CAD data. This means that both programs are required to create the documents and the update process becomes fragmented.
Pick a product that provides a complete, integrated solution. This will get you all the way from 3D CAD files to final product documents in the shortest time.
Easy to Install and Use
Many products that claim to focus on product documentation are complicated and work like CAD software. This requires an extended training period and the document creation process takes longer. In addition, many proposed documentation solutions require complicated integration planning and time-consuming IT effort. For most documentation projects this is just not necessary.
The best products on the market provide a user experience much like Microsoft Office. This makes installing and using the software easy and familiar, even for non-CAD users. Your team will spend less time fighting the software and more time creating informative documents.
Affordable for Entire Teams
Without affordable document authoring products, a single expert ends up with all the work. This is counter-productive to your efforts because it limits the reuse of the 3D information.
Look for affordable solutions that can be purchased for entire teams of users across the enterprise. Make sure that the products include the 3D, page design and publishing tools that you need to be successful.
Enterprise-Wide use of 3D
While 3D CAD has dramatically improved the engineer’s ability to rapidly design complex products, to-date, the product information contained in these CAD models has not been available to downstream participants who need it for product communication and collaboration. Downstream users are unable to leverage the readily available 3D content to create print and online documents.
Non-design activities that benefit from this information include:
· Manufacturing – Assembly instructions and procurement
· Technical documentation – user guides, data sheets
· Sales and marketing – online catalogs, virtual product walkthroughs, sales presentations, sales training, brochures
· Service and support – interactive training, parts catalog, service bulletins
· Collaborative sourcing and development – customer briefings, supplier communications, quality inspection and reporting, design reviews
As a result of their inability to leverage existing product information for communication and documentation, the downstream user has become the bottleneck in meeting company requirements for reducing time to market, improving product quality and reducing costs.
Manufacturing Work Instructions
Typically, manufacturing personnel don’t have access to 3D CAD tools. Product Documentation Software provides a means of fully using the 3D model and associated data to easily create associative BOMs, procurement documents, and manufacturing work instructions. The documents can be animated, interactive 3D or printed and contain the model, parts and special instructions for each step of the manufacturing process. This capability is extremely powerful for offshore operations. Furthermore, if a part changes, automatic update capabilities will update the entire documents with the revised parts.
Many technical publications groups use a multi-step, and multi-program, process for generating illustrations for product literature. These typically require engineering personnel to capture the specified view and render style in an image from the 3D CAD tool. Tech pubs must then add the markups in a paint tool and publish using yet another program. When using an integrated product documentation product, all tasks are accomplished with a single software solution. This allows Tech Pubs to easily design and publish illustrations directly from the 3D CAD for all product publications.
Illustrated Parts Catalogs
Creating illustrated parts catalogs or interactive parts lists is simple with QuadriSpace solutions since it is easy to explode the assemblies and the parts data is imported from the 3D CAD program while maintaining the associativity of the parts and data.
Service and Support
Operator, repair, maintenance and training material can be readily generated by using the comprehensive 3D editing, page layout, text editing and flexible publishing tools. These can be published to print, video, Flash, 3D PDF or native electronic CD or .EXE formats for broad distribution to users. The ‘automatic’ update capability also applies to these documents.
Product data sheets and sales and marketing materials are easily produced using the 3D editing, extensive markup and multi-model management tools.
Engineers can share designs using lightweight models that are secure and manageable. They can be printed or electronic, interactive 3D models which transcend language and cultural barriers.
Product documentation software can be used to document designs by capturing the 3D model and the associated parts data in a form accessible by those needing access to the design but that don’t have access to the 3D CAD tool. Also, QuadriSpace’s product documentation software supports multiple models from various 3D CAD tools.
Eldad Sayada, Widetech CEO.