Why and How You Should Create Mobile-Friendly Technical Illustrations - Part Two

Written By: Jeff-Coon

In Part One of this series, I made a case for why you should develop mobile-friendly technical illustrations. Now I’m going to focus on how to do it.

Before getting into the weeds, let’s take a step back and clarify the basic capabilities you’ll need to deliver 3D illustrations across smartphones, tablets, laptops, and (eventually) AR headsets:

  1. Get all of your product information into one place: Your company’s engineering department may produce much of the product and parts information you need to create documentation, but a significant portion will also come from parts suppliers.
  2. Automate illustration as much as possible: I don’t have to tell you that illustrating 1,000 parts is a time-consuming process. We’re surrounded with automation in every other aspect of our lives, so why should illustrating be an exception?
  3. Track product configurations across the install base: Knowing which configurations your customers are using dictates what information you send them.
  4. Update technical illustrations whenever product changes occur: I’ve been there. You release a printed publication, and a week later, engineering makes a part change that won’t be reflected in the documentation until the next print.

What processes, assets, and technologies will enable these capabilities?

A service bill of materials

A service bill of materials (SBOM) is to aftermarket service what an engineering bill of materials (EBOM) is to product development: It assembles all of the product and parts data you need to develop 3D, mobile-friendly technical illustrations.

That begs the question: How do you create an SBOM? You’re going to need some sort of service information management (SIM) system that pulls product and parts data from multiple sources and organizes that information in a way that’s easy for technicians, mechanics, and other service professionals to understand.

One feature you want to consider is BOM transformation. This is the concept of converting EBOMs into SBOMs. According to research from Tech-Clarity, 84% of OEMs use this tactic to create SBOMs.

Another note on SIM software: If you do decide to procure this technology, make sure you get a system that links service information back to engineering files. That way, if an engineer makes a change to a part design, your technical writers will receive a notification of the change, and apply it either automatically or manually (depending if the engineer in question wrote down his or her adjustments).

Links between CAD files and technical illustrations

This goes back to the point I made above. Engineers have all of these CAD files detailing many of the parts within each of your products, so why not use them? 

Some technical illustration tools actually establish associative links to engineering CAD data. That means every design change is automatically reflected in your technical documentation. Sure, you need software to take advantage of this functionality, but it will save your illustrators a lot of time.

In December, I'm actually co-hosting a webinar with my colleague, Julian Ferrett, on how to develop AR-ready, mobile-friendly 3D content. We'll cover how to create associative links and fulfill the lack of supplier-provided 3D content, among other things. You can register for the webinar below:

Technical Illustrations Webinar December 6, 2017

  • CAD
  • Service & Parts

About the Author


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.