Shape-Based Geometric Search Technology Patented

Geometric Limited was recently granted a patent titled “Geometry based search method for 3D CAx/PDM repositories” by the US Patent and Trademark Office (Patent no. 7,397,473). The patent outlines algorithms and methods to locate 3D CAD models based on shape data, unlike text and attribute based search methods.

Geometric’s 3DSearchIT is a shape-based search engine technology, built on patented algorithms such as this. Shape-based search is an intuitive process and improves productivity by enabling and encouraging information reuse through product lifecycle stages such as design, planning, manufacturing, procurement and inventory management. By encouraging reuse, it also has a potential to reduce overall product development time and costs.

Geometric’s Desktop Products and Technologies (DPT) business unit develops technologies and out-of-the-box (OOTB) software products that address productivity and knowledge management challenges for the engineering and manufacturing industry. The unit creates Intellectual Property and contributed close to 7% to the company’s revenues in Q1 FY09. Geometric licenses these technologies to OEM partners besides using them to design and implement customized process solutions for industrial customers. In the past, Geometric has received several patents for its Feature Recognition technology which is licensed to several OEMs in the CAD, CAM and CAE space.

Commentary By Jeffrey Rowe, Editor
There’s a lot more here than meets the eye with this short announcement. As popular as text search engines, such as Google, have become over the past few years, I’ve wondered if there was something similar possible the MCAD community with the zillions of geometry-based parts that continue to proliferate Today, there are actually several out on the market, and although they have not received the notoriety of their text search engine counterparts, I think they will.

While there are several shape search engines on the market, they differ somewhat in their underlying technology and are used for different purposes, because they have a number of potential uses that continue to be discovered. For example, a shape search engine could be used to ensure that there are no duplicates of a design hidden away in enterprise MCAD part databases. A shape search engine could also be used by designers for identifying and reviewing design alternatives.

Starting with 3DSearchIT, let’s take a look at it as well as a couple other shape search engines currently available and the companies that develop them.

3DSearchIT (Geometric Limited)

I evaluated this product with SolidWorks 2007 when it was then known as 3DSearchIT for SolidWorks. 3DSearchIT is a shape (geometry)-based search engine that is CAD independent and, according to the company, can work with any 3D file format.

When asked about the Solidworks product, Rajnish Bharti, senior product manager, Geometric Software Solutions said, “We are seeking customization and implementation opportunities in 3DSearch domain. Going forward, our focus will be on customizing the technology for individual company's needs. The technology is CAD format agnostic and can be easily tweaked to support formats other then SolidWorks. 3DSearchIt for SolidWorks is an out of the box product based on our 3DSearch technology and was created with the intent to provide a technical preview of the possibilities. Moving forward, however, we will not continue to invest in this product.”

The future of Geometric's 3DSearchIT technology is as a modeler independent, geometric 3D shape-based encoding and search library running under a client/server architecture. By representing raw 3D data, 3DSearchIT’s technology provides a tool for 3D information retrieval and reuse at just about any scale. 3DSearchIT can be integrated with any PDM system and its Web-based part catalogs provide the ability to significantly reuse existing product data.

3DSearchIT technology can be used to find parts based on 3D geometry using feature recognition that extracts features and their parameters from solid models. It has applications in modeling, design, finite element analysis, machining, process planning, and cost estimation. Feature recognition is the ability to automatically or interactively identify and group topological entities, such as faces in a boundary representation (B-rep) solid model, into functionally significant features such as holes, slots, pockets, fillets, ribs, etc. The features that are not recognized automatically can be recognized using the interactive feature recognition capabilities. Feature recognition is what makes smart solids out of dumb solids, providing information that can be used for other purposes.


iSEEK Corp. is based on work that began with CAD and shape-based search algorithms, where the concepts of the software algorithms were developed at Iowa State University. Initially, the company’s founders realized there was a CAD search problem, where virtually all manufacturers struggled to manage their engineering information. CAD files, the core component of engineering data, are typically dispersed across an organization. Different versions of parts are often mixed together, and finding the desired file becomes a time-consuming process that is actually wasted time. This situation too often forces engineers to (re)design a part from scratch rather than spend time trying to find the existing part they need. iSEEK's development of CADSEEK was intended to eliminate this problem, as well as the issue of part redundancy. Simply put, the CADSEEK Search Engine is a geometric shape-based search module for finding and comparing parts or assemblies for similarity.

CADSEEK's surface-based algorithms can perform similarity searches including finding mating parts, finding parts used in higher level assemblies and within a given percentage, it can find the casting or forging from which a given part is manufactured.

The Visual Navigator uses the CADSEEK search engine algorithm to provide a complete visualization of CAD database files. These files are clustered by similarity and displayed as parts families, which vary in size depending on the number of files that make up the cluster. They can also be grouped by material, corporate division, project, supplier, etc. Parts can also be selected from the Visual Navigator to initiate a similar part search.

Another module presents 3D information of the Visual Navigator in 2D thumbnails with what the company calls the Digital Catalog. It presents the thumbnail images in a page format that can be browsed to find parts of a particular shape. The Digital Catalog is a thin client that operates in a Web browser. The Digital Catalog also uses metadata, text extracted from individual CAD files such as material type, dimensional data, thread pitch, designer name, supplier name and location, and cost. With CADSEEK’s Digital Catalog, searches can be based on combinations of geometric shape and metadata, a capability that can prove particularly useful because of the versatility of the search input parameters.

Geolus Search (Siemens PLM Software)

What is now known as Geolus Search was originally developed by software design & management AG (sd&m AG). In June 2006, UGS (now Siemens PLM Software) announced that it had acquired the shape search technology from sd&m, and renamed it Geolus Search (it was formerly sold as geolus SHAPE). It is basically a shape search application that allows manufacturers to quickly locate 3D models of digitally defined parts from large heterogeneous data sources on the basis of geometric similarity. The intent of the acquisition was to allow UGS to build advanced geometry-based search applications that promote data reuse and eliminate the time and expense associated with designing or purchasing duplicate parts. Today, it is used primarily by two distinct groups within enterprises – design/engineering and procurement. The core functionality of Geolus Search is as Siemens PLM's search engine for assisting with the development, control, and procurement of parts. Geolus Search is now one of Siemens’ PLM components, a family that also includes Parasolid and JT Open.

Siemens’ Geolus Search uses geometric CAD data for its search rather than alphanumeric characters. It can search a database of literally millions of parts and locate duplicate and/or similar geometry in seconds without the need for manual part pre-classification. The Geolus indexing operation is what creates the search database and begins with geometric “fingerprints,” small files that are the result of shape analysis. The results are then displayed as “thumbnail” images. This shape search method can be used by itself or as a complement to a traditional alphanumeric metadata search process that provides an efficient search technique.

Siemens knows that most new products are the result of modifications and improvements to existing designs. By providing manufacturers with the ability to locate parts based on geometric shape, Geolus Search can help stimulate new product designs because it can reduce the need for part redesign. Geolus Search can be used in virtually any PLM or CAD environment due to its support for data formats such as VRML, STL and JT, the latter being Siemens’ 3D data format for universal visualization and collaboration. And because most major CAD applications are compatible with JT, UGS plans to further leverage that support by using JT as the foundation for future Geolus Search development. Look for the Geolus Search technology to be more tightly integrated with Teamcenter, Siemens’ data management suite, in the future.

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