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Shape search engine boosts design productivity

An innovative search engine that works on shapes rather than textual input has resulted from a EUREKA enabled transatlantic collaboration between Canadian and French companies. Launched on the market this year, this big data application is already helping designers and manufacturers reduce costs and get to market quicker.

We are all used to the concept of search engines. If you live your life online, you probably use a search engine dozens, if not hundreds, of times a day to search using a word or phrase or perhaps an image. But what if you wanted to search for a shape?

Searching for a 3D shape is a complex problem. But for designers and manufacturers it is a significant issue. Now thanks to a successful EUREKA project the world’s first shape based search engine for the web has been developed and brought to market.

“The capability to search on every single part can bring multi-million benefits.”

“3DPartFinder is a shape-based search engine: like ‘Google’ but using a real 3D model as input,” says Alain Coulombe, President and CEO of Canadian company 3DSemantix, one of two partners in the 3D SEARCH BIG DATA project.

The innovation responded to a need from manufacturers and designers to be able to search for standard parts when developing new products. “Computer aided design (CAD) systems are ubiquitous,” explains Alain. “They are very efficient in designing new products, but can also lead to a proliferation of ‘new’ designed parts when similar parts or components are already available either in house or on the market.”

Reinventing the wheel?

The inability to search widely for standard parts means that designers are literally reinventing the wheel on a regular basis, which has significant cost implications. Before the 3D SEARCH development, the time taken to find alternative parts in a CAD portal was very long. Most of the time users select the first part found when in fact an alternate part from a different manufacturer could be available in the CAD portal.

“Companies often use 10-15% of duplicates and close duplicates,” says Alain. “Clearly an ability to search for standard parts is much cheaper than creating new parts.”

The new 3DPartFinder search engine was created by 3DSemantix in collaboration with their partner Traceparts SA from France. The innovative engine is capable of searching more than 100 million unique 3D models in less than seven seconds including the 3D display of the results. This capability has been implemented successfully in the TraceParts CAD portal where users around the world can launch a search from a 3D model of any part displayed in the portal.

The two parties brought complementary skills, products and services to the project. TraceParts is a supplier of digital engineering 3D content and delivers progressive business software solutions through the TracePartsOnline.net portal available to CAD users around the world.

3DSemantix now wants to embrace the whole market and is developing the interface for the search engine to work with any component manufacturer, CAD portal or database. The company plans to launch this extended version of the 3D SEARCH engine next year.

It is also looking to extend the search engine’s capabilities into other application areas and developing some ambitious and exciting collaborative research projects.

“The EUREKA project was really important for us. It gave us a true competitive advantage and enabled us to act really quickly,” concludes Alain. “It brought mutual benefits for both companies involved.”

The engine is also bringing big benefits to users of the system. “The capability to index and search on every single part in a company’s inventory can bring multi-million benefits for companies,” concludes Alain. “It enables new products to be created quicker incorporating standard parts meaning you can get to market quicker and at lower cost.”

Raising the productivity and competitiveness of European businesses through technology. Boosting national economies on the international market, and strengthening the basis for sustainable prosperity and employment.