The Case for Including 3D Animations in Service Manuals
Written By: Jeff-Coon

Of all the challenges facing service organizations in 2016, 31% listed greater product complexity as a top concern, as noted in a survey from Aberdeen.

The root of this issue lies in a lack of accessible, helpful technical documentation. Respondents noted that even though technicians are responsible for solving issues of ascending difficulty, they often have to work out resolutions themselves.

They make it easier for people to interpret complex information

A study from the National Technical University of Athens sought to determine how three types of animations impacted students’ ability to retain information:

•    Interactive 3D virtual environments (I3DVE): Enabled students to manipulate the animations by rotating 3D objects, increasing brightness, zooming in, etc.
•    3D animations interface (3DAIF): Allowed study participants to pause and play animations.
•    3D static illustrations interface (3DSIIF): Provided a short series of 3D illustrations that demonstrated an object’s transformation.

The researchers tested the students’ knowledge of the information conveyed through the animations, and discovered those who interacted with the I3DVE consistently outperformed those who worked with the other 3D animations, but why?

Interactive 3D animations allow people to tap into their spatial ability – the cognitive skill required to retain information about 3D objects. Think back to the times when you picked up an object you had never handled before. You probably spent time turning it over in your hands and viewing it from different angles. Doing so allowed you to better understand whatever it was you were handling.

The same principle applies to interactive 3D animations. They gave the students in the study the freedom to use their visualization skills. How can you apply this insight when creating 3D animations for field technicians and product end-users?

Takeaways from the studies

Illustrators often create animations that demonstrate step-by-step procedures at certain frame rates – or video speeds. If the frame rate is too fast, and the animations simulate multiple steps at once, viewers may have to watch animations several times to understand each step. Here are a few steps you can take to avoid this issue:

  • Break up your animations: If a service procedure consists of multiple actions, segment them into separate animations. When it makes sense, group some actions together. For example, if you’re animating how to replace a chainsaw blade, you can simulate unscrewing the nuts holding the sprocket cover and removing the cover in the same animation.
  • Enable users to turn and rotate 3D animations: Showing one visual perspective of how to perform an action limits viewers’ ability to interpret information. If they can watch procedures from multiple angles, you’ll provide a more convenient experience.
  • Allow users to control animation speed: Some absorb information quickly than others. This function enables product end-users and technicians to personalize their experiences based on how they absorb information.

How you create 3D animations largely depends on the software you currently use to develop technical illustrations. If you’re interested, the webinar replay below highlights Creo Illustrate’s animation capabilities:

Why include 3D animations in technical documentation? Interactive 3D animations increase product end-user comprehension. Start Exploring!
Tags: CAD Digital Transformation Service Lifecycle Management (SLM)
About the Author Jeff-Coon

Jeff Coon is PTC’s Solution Management Director, overseeing PTC’s illustration tools. With 34 years of experience in field service, Jeff’s career began as an AH-1 Attack Helicopter Repairman in the U.S. Army. After his time in the service, he worked as a technical illustration specialist at Boeing for five years until he joined ITEDO Software as a technical engineer in 2000. In 2006, he was named PTC’s Principal Application Engineer for the company’s illustration tools, defining implementation strategies for Boeing, John Deere, and others.