Access and PDF's (1 Viewer)

tmyers

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This is going to be a broad question. I was asked this morning if it would be possible to build a program that could store PDF's that would allow people to then pick and choose what files they wanted, edit them and then compile them into one set/file. For those more versed in construction, I was asked to make a system for making submittals.

The first part is simple, I would store hundreds of PDF files on our local file server and store their path within the database then allow users to select which files they want to work with. The problem then deals with manipulating them and editing them to a certain degree then combining all edited files into one new file.

From what little understanding of it I have, I believe PDF's are a royal pain to work with to this degree and I also think this kind of project is beyond my current skill set but wanted to ask the professionals. I don't quite think this may be within the scope of something Access could reasonably do.
 

Pat Hartman

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To answer directly, manipulating the internals of a PDF requires that the user have the full version of Adobe installed and that is very expensive. Same for if you want to automate this from Access. The user still needs Adobe to make use of the API.

I have a drawing log application for a steel company that creates various types of transmittals but I don't understand what you would be doing to assemble multiple PDF's
 

tmyers

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We all do have a full Acrobat license, so that would not be an issue. As for the assembling, what I mean is use the base PDF, edit it, save it as a separate file for later and when you are done and all files are done being edited, use Acrobats "combine files" to make them one file rather than multiple then save that and delete the single files that were edited so that the base file is preserved.

After talking to my boss more, turns out he is simply trying to save money and trying to have me replicate https://parspec.io/ but a much more dumbed down version. I already explained that anything remotely close to that is so above my ability its laughable.

Edit:
Only thing I have going for me currently is that this would be purely for items that we stock so it would not be anywhere near as flexible as ParSpec. I asked if the money they would supposedly save from me trying to create this would even balance out with the sheer amount of time I will likely have invested into making it.
 

The_Doc_Man

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It is theoretically possible to do what you want, but you might wish to consider a hybrid approach. Surely, editing a PDF through Access would be complex enough to drive you to drink. You would need a really complex editing interface to define where you wanted to store something in the document, maybe you need to be able to offer a list of files to be combined, maybe you need to be able to move things around within the document... a dozen possibilities come to mind and ALL of them involve complex VBA sequences that use the Adobe Application Object (or whatever you would call it.)

But if you have an Acrobat license for folks who need to do the editing, would you perhaps do better to have a "check-out" system where you have a document in a separate area. Someone can "check out" the document for modification using the full version of Acrobat (or whatever they call it these days). Then you check it in and someone with appropriate authority checks it to see that it wasn't clobbered by the editing. Then they "check in" the new copy and rename the older copy as a backup or sequence-numbered version for historical purposes. You would do the check-in/check-out using Access to do the file copying and manipulation, but use the actual Acrobat tools for editing. That wouldn't take NEARLY as long. By having a formal "check-in" review, you have the safeguards you might need and can automate the file-management part with Access.
 

theDBguy

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If by "editing" the pdf you mean the user will be using Adobe Acrobat or Reader to make their changes and saving them, then the problem simply becomes how to combine multiple pdf files. If so, this can easily be done in Access. Is that what you mean?
 

Pat Hartman

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What do the PDF's contain that can be merged? What are the transmittals used for? If they are to manage drawings, we should chat.
 

tmyers

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The editing would be minor. So for example a specification sheet for say a light fixture would detail everything about it but also list all the options to correctly put together a part number. The editing would involve simply highlighting the bits of the part number that we are submitting on and assembling the full number in the top right corner. We would then do that for multiple items which each would have their own spec sheet (or maybe reusing the same one but each iteration uses different options so the part number would be different). At the end of that process, all individual files would be combined into one full submittal package with a cover sheet.

Attached is an example PDF that would be worked with. Not all of them are structured this nicely, but this would be the general format. Highlight the options that the item we are submitting on contains, put the fully assembled number in the top right corner (which in this files case already has a spot for it).

Like I said in my OP though, I think this may be too ambitious especially for my skill level. There is a reason services like ParSpec that I linked above are a few hundred dollars a month.
 

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tmyers

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That answer right there is what I was searching for lol.
Telling the boss this is a hard no from me and he is just going to have to pay for the service :D
 

theDBguy

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That answer right there is what I was searching for lol.
Telling the boss this is a hard no from me and he is just going to have to pay for the service :D
Hi. I have no idea what you all said above. I opened the attached PDF and couldn't figure out how to select options. When you said the new part number would show up, does it mean you have some logic going on behind the form that will automatically do that?

As I said earlier, if the problem was simply combining multiple PDF files into one, that's doable in Access.
 

tmyers

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Most of the PDF files are like that but are not form-fillable or interactable which leads to a lot of repetitious editing in Adobe/Acrobat. I think I will make a file catalog system that will keep track of a bunch of files and assemble them for you but editing will still have to be done manually unless the boss would like to pay the $300 or so a month for the service (which is what they should do as it is such an amazing program).
 

The_Doc_Man

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Sometimes on the make/purchase scale, the cost of "make" DRASTICALLY outweighs the cost of "purchase." Given what I was making near the end of my active employment days, a project that would take a few weeks would soon get into tens of thousands of dollars (depending exactly on the meaning of "few") and thus would make the decision easy.

To do low-level field highlighting from an Access-based control menu driving an Adobe object seems to me to involve an INCREDIBLE amount of design work followed by some serious code creation. On a "risk" scale, I would place this kind of project at an EXTREME difficulty level.
Which is to say, doable but very expensive and highly subject to "speed-bump" situations that would only raise the cost higher.

In fact, before I had the Navy job, I was the chief software designer for another company that is now defunct (not because of me...). More than once I was asked to evaluate software engineering risks for customer projects so that we could try to compute a reasonable cost for our bid on the proposed work.

The reason for my evaluation here is that in essence you have to design a new interface over an extant interface and, because you have to be able to interact with low-level elements, that 2nd interface has to be just as complex as the "actual" interface you are trying to replicate. Which means diligently crossing every t and dotting every i for the entire program interface that is one of Adobe's flagship products and therefore is DESIGNED to be complex because of the job it has to do. Lots of fine detail work for probably hundreds of commands available through drop-down menus and context menus. And yet... reinventing a wheel.
 

tmyers

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Well put Doc. I spoke with the boss and told him that this is well beyond what I am capable of doing plus would take an extremely long time to develop if it ever even got finished. I said why take the risk and wait when there is a product specifically designed for this EXACT purpose? Consider if the cost of doing business.

Also hammered home the fact that ParSpec was designed by the same team that produced AutoCAD,
 

Pat Hartman

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$100 per seat per month is high in the service model but that's because the user base for this product is relatively small. By that standard, O365 is hugely overpriced. But if the software saves you enough hours per user per month to justify the cost, then it is worth every penny.
 

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