Fasten Your Seatbelts, 3D Digital Documentation Is About to Change Manufacturing

How Tetra4D’s 3D PDFs changed the way aerospace design reviews were done.

Premium airplane seats, such as this one, contain sophisticated wiring for electronics and electrical systems.

Premium airplane seats, such as this one, contain sophisticated wiring for electronics and electrical systems.

Every day, tens of thousands of people pass down the aisle of an airplane. After stowing their bags, they maneuver themselves into their seats and prepare themselves for the ride ahead. Those with a window seat may admire the jet engines that are about to propel them at 500 miles per hour, 35,000 feet above the earth. Few will realize that the seat that they’ve occupied is also a sophisticated piece of design that’s been pored over by a team of engineers who have sweated out every detail.

A modern aircraft seat, and especially a premium one, will contain a hidden, complex wiring system for entertainment systems, power outlets, seat adjusters, lights and more—all tied to the aircraft’s central power system.

Another hidden aspect of aerospace design is the extensive design reviews that the Boeing and Airbus airplanes of the world require.

Design Reviews

In an industry known for attention to microscopic detail, these processes can combine to create product delays and cost overruns. But one company made a bold move to change the status quo—and changed the way modern airplanes are built.

David Ewing used to be the manager of engineering services at B/E Aerospace. During his time there, Ewing led a team responsible for creating a seismic shift in their business.

David Ewing, formerly at B/E Aerospace, currently a product manager at Aras.

David Ewing, formerly at B/E Aerospace, currently a product manager at Aras.

According to Ewing, when it came to developing a new wiring scheme for an airline’s seat configuration, every drawing would have to be checked by engineers at the client company. “Sometimes we’d be delivering drawings of our wiring designs that were in the tens of pages with a hundred or more views,” he said.

Drawings that complex would often result in the client making several requests for more views before redlines could even be handed back to B/E.

Going to 3D

At one point, Ewing and his team finally realized that the way they were approaching design reviews, with their laborious back-and-forth exchanges, had to change.

“After doing our homework, we realized that we could improve our process by adopting a 3D PDF template for all of our drawings,” explained Ewing.

Although 3D PDFs are becoming more common, they’re still not widely used across industry, which is unfortunate because research has shown that 3D PDFs can deliver extreme benefits. 3D PDFs are essentially a universal PDF file that has 3D models embedded within the document body. Since most people have Adobe Reader installed on their computers, almost anyone can access and use the 3D PDF format. What’s more, the best 3D PDFs carry all of a model’s design intent, and allow users to evaluate a design in ways 2D drawings can’t match.

To begin their transition from the 2D to 3D paradigm, Ewing’s team decided to use Tech Soft’s Tetra4D Converter tool, the first native 3D PDF technology. With Tetra4D’s 3D PDF converter, B/E had the tool they needed to create tighter design review documents that featured fewer pages, but that was only the beginning of their journey to change the aerospace design game.


“Having a 3D PDF is nice, but it doesn’t cut down on the complexity that we were presenting to a client,” Ewing noted. To reduce complexity, B/E’s team built a flash-based tool that would allow product design engineers to filter a model so that only the component that the client wanted to see would be viewable in the doc. For example, if Boeing’s people wanted to concentrate on the wiring that connected entertainment components to their grounds, they could select an options in the 3D PDF to show only that system.

“Most importantly,” Ewing added, “Tertra4D’s 3D PDF allowed us to open and handle incredibly complex models 99.99 percent of the time. Even the most minute elements of data were preserved in the PDF.”

Almost miraculously, with that simple tool, Ewing and his team had taken what was once an absurdly complex design review process and simplified it by orders of magnitude.

But they weren’t done yet.


To make design reviews even more fluid, the 3D PDF team at B/E also added a markup layer to their tool so that any markup could be made directly on the PDF. With this feature in place, the designers at B/E could simply open a 3D PDF, jump to the exact location in 3D space where a markup had been added, and make whatever modifications were necessary. Now, not only was Boeing realizing the benefit of 3D PDFs, but B/E was as well.

A Design Review Revolution

“We weren’t the only ones out there trying to change this process—we just happened to be the best,” says Ewing proudly.

This was a not vendor bragging. The client agreed. After seeing the work that Ewing and has team had done, they decided to adopt 3D PDF documents as the for future B/E documentation.  “With three months of hard work developing [a] 3D PDF process, we were able to realize enormous cost savings,” Ewing said. “B/E’s 3D PDF project was easily the best program I funded during my time there.  We were able to add significant value to our Engineering team and our customer!”

Thanks to Ewing and his team, the aerospace industry has been able to improve its design review processes. So, if you ever score a premium seat on a flight, take a moment to reflect on the revolution in engineering that happened directly underneath you.