3D Shape Search in CAD and PLM

3D Shape Search in CAD and PLM

Last week I had a chance to speak with Andy Sherlock of ShapeSpace. My momentary interest was caught by a blog post – Clean up for PLM published on ShapeSpace blog. ShapeSpace is a small outfit trying out the water of 3D geometrical search for CAD and PLM. I found a problem of shape-based search quite interesting. Visualization of search can make search more useful. So, I decided to put some thoughts towards what happens in this space.

Search Googels?
Google made efforts in the direction of going beyond text over the past year. The following product Google Googels available on Android devices brings a new experience in how you can find things visually.

ShapeSpace Part Browser
One of the core capabilities of ShapeSpace Part Browser is the ability to navigate and filter product shapes. In my view, it becomes useful for managing your part libraries. You can take a look on the following examples. Navigate on this link to see more videos.

Sconce Bingo!
Another solution I found in the same category is Bingo! from Sconce. I followed this company for some time and found they provided some very interesting examples of how to imply 3D search practices into product development. In the following video, you can see tight integration with Pro-E and Windchill. You can also get a brief about this solution from CIMData by navigating on this link.

Siemens Geolus
I had to mention Geolus Component from Siemens PLM. The technology was acquired by Siemens PLM (then UGS) in 2006. You can see a historical article by Cadalyst: Geolus Search – The Google of 3D. You can find few examples of Geolus navigating your browser on the following link.

You can try to experiment with Geolus by accessing sample application via this link (registration required). You will see a pretty old web page with application with Siemens PLM Copyright (2008).

Why Search Stinks?
I think, visual is inspiring. However, visual and picture-based search are still not providing a level of reliability that can put it in a mainstream. Google Googels has limited capabilities that are very dependent on what type of picture you are trying to search. It works well on architecture, but fails on more casual examples. The same is in 3D… The precision of query definitions becomes a key driver of success.

(photo from Search Patterns book by Peter Morville)

What is my conclusion? Over the last 10 years Google converted “text based search” into a mainstream. Nevertheless, there is no one size search for every problem. 3D search is addressing an interesting problem of using geometry and shape to assist users in finding information. The result can be impressive. The query definition is still disappointing, in my view. I’d be interested to listen more about your Shape Search experience.

Best, Oleg


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  • Graham Mccall

    Here’s a free article on how advanced 3D geometric search technology from ShapeSpace can be integrated into a company’s PLM landscape and strategy.
    It also explores two key areas where this capability can improve business performance (1) Reducing material spend by reducing parts count (2) Enabling rapid retrieval of proven designs

  • beyondplm

    Graham, thank you for sharing this article! It is definitely important to state what advantages 3D search provides and how it can be embedded into existing systems. Best, Oleg

  • Oleg, I post a video about the integration of Geolus in NX, you can see the new interface and the new resources of this tool.
    In my opinion the future of these techonolgy is the integration into already existing tools such as CAD and cPDM, at least this is the path the Siemens is following.

  • beyondplm

    Fabio, thank you for posting a video! I’m going to update my post with this video replaced. I agree. Your video outlines a possible way how such type of software can be integrated into CAD and PDM/PLM tools. Best, Oleg

  • Alexey

    Oleg, you forgot about DS solution. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofuV50Uedcc
    We did movie about Composer, but at the beginning of that video we used 3Dindex functionality of ENOVIA to find all details which include in the box. We deployed index server for 3D-Search in our two last project. It is not difficult to explain to customer the benefits of 3dsearch and ask him to buy additional server for.

  • Kelly Knake

    I would add Cadseek as a very strong contender in this market
    They have some large companies that have successfully deployed and utilized their solution, with a ROI in one case of 8 months.
    Two sites to get more information http://www.3dcadseek.com and out on MCAD CAFE where the announcement that Kendleton Trucks had selected Cadseek.


    Kelly 713-784-3500

  • Thanks for the mention Oleg.

    I’ll just pick up on your point about query definition. This is perhaps where 3D shape search is harder than text search.

    If I query a textual search engine for say ‘cam’, I am asking for records containing ‘cam’ (and perhaps misspellings and synonyms) ordered by relevancy in some way. Of course, ‘cam’ is unclear – do I want records relating to ‘computer-aided manufacture’, webcams, ‘cam’ as a device or ‘Cam’ the river? A good search engine will recognise this and bring an example of each to the top. It will also give me the opportunity to refine my query with ‘related searches’ – Bing does this quite prominently.

    One thing to note – I’ve asked for ‘cam’ and I’d pretty much expect any returned record to absolutely contain ‘cam’. This is not the case with shape search. It’s pretty rare that the user will know completely the shape of the item he requires (especially in the use-case Graham mentioned of part reuse ). Almost always the shape of the item the user is looking for will differ in some way (perhaps substantially) from the query.

    We’ve found that the various measures of shape similarity only go part way toward addressing this – after all, the user himself doesn’t know the complete shape of the item they want. Hence the system needs to engage in a dialog with the user to help them navigate to the item they want. This might involve showing results in 3D so that the user can assess them, suggesting types of items the user might be interested in (analagous to ‘CAM’, ‘cam’, ‘webcam’ or ‘Cam’ example), and giving opportunities for the query itself to be refined in the light of what’s available.

    These are some of the key things we at ShapeSpace have been concentrating on.

  • beyondplm

    Alexey, thank you for your comment and link to the video. However, this is not exactly the type of search I was talking about in this post. What 3DLive/3DVIA is doing is allow to browse in 3D and manipulate with information based on some additional criteria. This is not actually “search geometry based on geometry”. Maybe I missed something. Please correct me in this case. Best, Oleg

  • Alexeng

    yes, attached video doesn’t show the geometry search by shape, but this 3d-search of ENOVIA allows to do it. The interesting point of your post is possibility to find part by using scketch.

  • beyondplm

    Kelly, thanks for information and link. How do you explain 3D search is still looking for their path to CAD users and engineers, in general? Best, Oleg

  • beyondplm

    Andy, thank you for sharing your insight! I definitely agree, search pattern with 3D is different. I think, pure 3D search is “not an option”. On the other side, “just browse” is not an option too. So, what can be a potential option? Probable some combination of “things” that can help use to find what is looking for. 3D search is just one ingredient in the overall solution. Just my thoughts. As usually, I would be happy to discuss. Best, Oleg

  • beyondplm

    Alexey, search by sketch is indeed interesting. You, basically, explained why I didn’t mention “ENOVIA search”. It is not what I focused in this post – 3D (geometry) search. Thanks for commenting, anyway. Best, Oleg