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Mar 16 2022

How PDFTron Supports the AEC Industries in Streamlining Cloud Collaboration and Digital Reviews

by Adam Pez

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Thought leadership content in the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industries proclaims cloud-first to be a crucial part of the future. Moving to digital workflows allows project owners, designers, and contractors to get on the same page wherever they are to make projects more efficient, shorten timelines, and lower risks. And in the wake of the pandemic, organizations everywhere now realize the benefits of replacing paper with remote-friendly digital processes. This transformation not only cuts costs (time and trees) – it ensures essential business continuity in today’s work-from-home environment.

For those curious to discover more about how to build complete digital workflows for AEC – then this guide is for you. We’ll share how our AEC customers such as Bentley, Autodesk, Trimble, Aconex, and more leverage our technology to provide remote access to content anywhere, streamline collaboration on any platform, and enable efficient digital reviews.

TL;DR: PDFTron gives you the ability to integrate seamless and fully customizable viewing, markups, and collaboration on a complete variety of project documents on the web. In this blog, we’ll show you how.

Visit our 

 to learn more about our JavaScript SDK. For a guided tour of PDFTron features tailored for AEC, check out our recent webinar:

Handle Large and Complex Files

If you’re looking for a PDF reader for the first time, you better make sure it can read 100% of your PDF files.

CCS’s Product and Development Manager Tony Cornwall

Through design, planning, construction, and handover to operations, every project depends on drawings. These showcase architectural details of what a building or structure should look like and design details of how it was constructed. More than that, they contain essential information teams will use to plan and estimate the labor, materials, and anything else needed to get projects off the ground. Drawings also include the information vital to maintaining a structure long term.

However, there’s too often trouble accessing the information you need in its digital representation. Large CAD files created in powerful CAD tools and other formats need to be plotted as “portable” PDF renditions for lightweight collaboration across devices, geographies, and between various stakeholders. Conversion errors can interrupt smooth viewing, especially in a browser, as teams try to work on content that doesn’t look as it should or that loads very slowly and sometimes, not at all.

That’s where the PDFTron SDK comes in. It renders documents quickly and precisely and has been specifically calibrated to handle the real-world challenges of CAD to PDF. It accurately translates CAD concepts to PDF – such as 

 and proper line weights (e.g., zero-width lines).

fast, high-fidelity rendering

Drill into design details as deeply as you need with powerful client-side rendering

In addition, the top performance of the PDFTron SDK enables you to implement smooth interaction on PDF-based designs, no matter how large and complex they may be. Teams can zoom in to examine the smallest detail in a key plan on the web. With PDFTron’s high-fidelity rendering, details stay sharp so that you can enable fast, detailed reviews, precise measurements, and accurate estimates.

  • Experience
     WebViewer’s powerful client-side rendering in your browser

Bring Together Project Documents

Project documents that need to be collaborated on come in many shapes and sizes:

  • Large drawing packages that need to be broken up
  • Designs sourced directly from native CAD tools
  • RFIs and other project documents from Word and Excel templates
  • Scanned in versions of drawings with redlines from the field that need to be compared with the original design

An AEC toolkit needs to process all these file types and more to successfully bring the pieces of project workflows together. At PDFTron, we support 

 within a single SDK solution.

CAD to PDF

First, we 

 from AutoCAD® DWG™, AutoCAD® DXF™, AutoCAD® RVT™, and Bentley’s MicroStation® DGN™ formats – the most common CAD and BIM formats found in nearly every design environment and used in construction projects around the globe.

Serverless PDF, Office, and Images

Next, our web SDK comes with fast, client-side image and Office file conversion. No servers or MS office software are required thanks to a built-in Office engine supporting docx, pptx, xlsx, and legacy Office formats. This serverless support for popular formats simplifies integration into your web or native app while at the same time, ensuring a smooth end-user experience.

Benefits of client-side conversion include:

  • A more reliable and consistent end-user experience
  • No reliance on server infrastructure enhancing security and saving cost
  • Improved scalability of remote applications, where spotty internet, offline use, and mobile data plan costs are all considerations

A Collaboration Experience Out of the Box

Implementing a full collaboration experience into an application is no small feat. It requires vast knowledge in many areas of software development and architecture, and can quickly become hard to maintain and scale.

PDFTron’s Head of Web Applications Logan Bittner

Building a complete collaboration experience can take developers months – precious time in any fast-paced enterprise environment. With PDFTron, we provide you 

 modules to enable professional collaboration in less than 
50 lines of code
.

Features include:

  • Real-time syncing of annotations
  • Threaded conversations on comments to power discussions and track issues to resolution
  • Support for the full range of AEC markups/stamps to express any situation
  • Notifications and @mentions
     to invite the right stakeholders in to discuss and resolve issues

In addition, collaboration modules come with customizable review states (i.e., 

) such as accepted, rejected, completed, etc. to enable efficient review and approvals.

Collaboration modules will also hook into 

 and support single sign-on (SSO) within your current authentication system. On top, we provide 
robust permissions
 to fine-tune what your users can do (view, edit, and create annotations). And we also make it easy to implement a 
versioning system
 to create a history of annotations – as part of a markup consolidation or contractor submission review workflow, for example, where you need to load pre-existing markups and enable auditable discussions on top.

Complete AEC Toolset in a Flexible Viewer

Having someone fully active with the software and being able to use every feature without any training is a huge advantage. But you don’t want to change their process; the process stays the same. It is the digitization of it. If you can make that simple and delightful enough, they will adopt it.

Drawboard’s COO Scott Cooper

Centralizing workflows in a single, easy-to-use and easy-to-maintain viewer helps with version control and immensely in keeping users on the same page. But to keep users in app, and off paper, a digital workflow still needs to be complete with the tools to get the job done – in a UI free of productivity-killing clutter.

Therefore, we’ve built and refined a complete kit of features tailor-made for AEC workflows, available inside a UI fully customizable to your user experience requirements.

Snap-to Measurement + Area Calculations by Scale

This complete kit includes our 

. Users can leverage virtually any line or shape to perform fast, accurate measurements of length, area, arc, and perimeter. (
Try the online measurement demo
.)

For added precision, users can 

 in a drawing, such as the end of a line, a midpoint, an intersection, or a corner. And for fast estimations, users can then 
calculate dimensions
 by distance, perimeter, and area based on the drawing scale, calibrated manually or programmatically. They can also comment on any measurement and add, track, and filter/search for comments associated with measurements.

precise measurement tool

Precise measurement lets you set scale and perform accurate calculations based on it

Coming Soon: Intuitive object snap indicators (endpoint, midpoint, intersection and point on line) like those found in familiar CAD tools.

Control points in a drawing

Snap indicators such as this “square” appear beneath your cursor on snap-to geometry

Drawing Overlays and Comparisons

The first review of any new drawing needs a rigorous inspection to follow quality management guidelines in any design process. However, once design details are approved, subsequent reviews need to be more efficient and focused on the precise changes made, so relevant parties quickly address previous comments and ensure no new issues get overlooked.

Features used to juxtapose drawings visually help achieve this focused view of changes. But for these comparisons to be meaningful, they require precise alignment.

At PDFTron, we provide two options supported in our web SDK:

  1. Overlay features that you can enable quickly out of the box
  2. A more complex comparison feature that you can fully customize

The 

 is available out of the box to automate a comparison process. Users merely need to drop in documents, and the component overlays them in WebViewer, highlighting the differences between one version to the next for a focused view.

overlay comparisons

Overlay lets you quickly focus your view on changes in another color (e.g., red)

Meanwhile, with comparisons, design concepts can be

in a single view that opens when you upload two sets of drawings. Users can then “nudge” documents into alignment with an intuitive widget to correct for issues such as incorrect rotation, offset, and scale. This makes the comparison component ideal for processing drawings such as scans from a remote site or a third-party, when you can’t control version creation.

Side by side document comparison

Two versions, before on the left and after on the right, with a merged view in the middle

In either case, PDFTron comparison functionality will work with any PDF file, including PDFs with images, text and other graphics -- and not just vector elements or rasterized images. We even provide APIs to 

, and capture these differences in intuitive, highlighted pairs.

Layers

In addition, PDFTron supports 

 in a drawing in much the same way you would expect them to work in CAD. This makes it easy for a contractor post-construction, for example, to focus their view on the details that matter to their scope. It’s easy for them to turn off HVAC, equipment, and electrical layers to focus on piping so they can complete their work faster. And since PDFTron renders client-side, changes happen in seconds.

drawing layers

Drawing layers let you focus your view on what matters most

(Try our 

.)

Fully Customizable

Lastly, PDFTron’s cross-platform SDK is fully flexible, with a developer-friendly UI you can quickly tailor to your user experience requirements or product’s design language by leveraging one of a few integration pathways:

  1. Headless/APIs only - For example, you can embed WebViewer headlessly within your own UI and experience, to take advantage of its fast, client-side rendering and document processing APIs providing additional advanced and serverless capabilities, such as 
    digital signing
    form filling
    redaction
    document manipulation
    , web-based 
    PDF text editing
    , and 
    much more
    .
  2. Out of box - Achieve the shortest pathway to a solution by leveraging an intuitive UI out of the box and quickly styling it to your requirements. The PDFTron viewer comes complete with customization APIs allowing developers to easily apply your brand look and colors, and remove unnecessary tools/UI elements to streamline the user experience down to essentials.
  3. An open-source UI - Lastly, gain complete control over the behavior, functionality, and appearance of the out-of-box viewer with its UI source code in React available for your developers to fork from our 
    GitHub repository
    .

To learn even more about your options, check out our 

. And don’t forget to read our 
case study on Drawboard
 to see how they could achieve a beautiful UI leveraging PDFTron rendering and APIs under the hood.

Conclusion - More to Come

At PDFTron, we have thousands of partners worldwide including leaders in the AEC industries who today, leverage PDFTron’s leading rendering and rich functionality that we have continuously developed over the past 24 years. And we will continue to work on enhancing our AEC toolset and rendering to make the experience even better, and integrations even easier.

If you’re as excited as we are about the features covered in this blog, or if you have a 

, feedback, question or suggestion, don’t hesitate to 
drop us a line
. Our 
product managers
 and the developers who built our product would be delighted to chat with you.

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