Search Shapes Up

The search functions in most product data management (PDM) and product lifecycle management (PLM) systems rely heavily on your knowledge of the object you’re trying to find. They use the fragmented information you provide—a partial file name, a classification, usage history or associated projects—as guiding criteria to search across the enterprise database, then present you with a list of items containing the stated attributes. The method works well with text or other data that fits nicely into a file folder structure, but it proves far less efficient with CAD data.

Why reinvent the wheel?

How many times have you said, ‘Oh, I remember making something like that, or seeing something like that.’ Then you poke around a couple of minutes to look for it. And, if you don’t find it, you recreate it from scratch. The unnecessary re-engineering of existing parts and components has serious implications for time, labor and deadlines.

Among PDM and PLM vendors, there’s a growing recognition that shape is one of the important parameters in searches. Design engineers can often describe the rough shape of the object they need for a project. Searching for it by name, classification or previous projects, however, could be a tall order if they’ve never come across the file.

Geometry-based search or shape-based search technologies usually permit you to use a readily available shape as input. Such systems employ robust shape-indexing algorithms to classify, group and organize files based on geometric feature similarities. Therefore, they can efficiently scan a database and identify existing models with the same geometric attributes as the reference item.

  • Dassault Systèmes’ ENOVIA data management products incorporate the underlying technology that comes from EXALEAD, a search engine the company acquired in 2010.
  • Siemens PLM Software’s Geolus shape search technology came from sd&m (software design & management AG Germany).
  • At Autodesk, shape search appears under Design Graph, part of the company’s A360 (Autodesk 360) Drive.

The Cloud and Machine Learning and Built-In Data Management

With the rise of on-demand software-as-a service (SaaS), PDM and PLM offerings, a growing number of small and mid-size enterprises are turning to the cloud for data management. That can have implications in data retrieval and file searches. Searching on the cloud offers new business opportunities through broad access and optional, scalable hosting services. Geolus’ architecture complements this, so authenticated users can search from anywhere.

Machine learning is part of Design Graph’s indexing system, which allows the software to apply algorithms to group and classify the files based on shapes, attributes, and metadata. It is able to use machine learning with taxonomies within a customer’s data so it’s dynamically cataloged, thereby promoting reuse.

Historically, CAD modeling and data management are treated as separate tasks: 3D mechanical modeling programs seldom come with data-management functions; and, data-management programs typically don’t offer modeling tools. Onshape, which offers a browser-based parametric CAD modeler, says the two should be tightly integrated. Its PDM tools are part of the modeling environment itself.

>Read more by Kenneth Wong, I, October 3, 2016