Shape searches eliminate duplication

The ability to search by shape could cut parts duplication and save money. Paul Fanning reports on a software package designed to do just that.

Because design engineers often lack browse and search capabilities, the business of finding a part within a large component library can be complex and time consuming, especially when the name or part number is unknown.

Naturally, this problem tends to make finding and reusing existing parts extremely difficult. A solution to this problem is available in the form of ShapeSpace, a 3D shape search technology provides engineering companies with a comprehensive 3D CAD search tool.

This enables design engineers to browse and search for CAD parts, regardless of whether the name or part number is known. It allows the user to search by creating a shape roughly similar to the part required and offers alternatives based on the extent to which it matches the part searched for.

The closeness of the match is represented visually, with close matches displayed at the front and others further back down. Gary Pesticcio, product sales manager for ShapeSpace, makes clear the scale of the potential problem, saying: "We've found 15% of duplicated data in some instances. For instance, think about an aircraft like an Airbus.

You've got over 3 million parts in that total assembly. And, given the number of departments and people working on it, you're bound to get overlap. We've found the overlap with things like clips, washers and bolts – they can be designed many times over." Clearly this costs not only the engineers' time in creating a new unnecessary part, but also costs for the company in design, procurement and inspection of new parts.

In order to demonstrate its capabilities, ShapeSpace will go into a company and run a parts analysis on all of the 3D CAD files they have. Says Pesticcio: "When we do that we find that some of them are on the file server –they think they're organised on there, but they can't recall the parts because they can't find the part code or the naming convention is different. Language can play a big part – how you might describe a clip might differ greatly from how I might describe it. It can be difficult to search for this stuff using part codes or descriptions."

Once a duplication report has been produced, ShapeSpace and the company agree an average part duplication cost. They then multiply this cost by the number of known duplicates found on the system, and present a likely cost saving. ShapeSpace's advanced 3D search-by-shape technology integrates with all the major CAD, PDM/ PLM and back office systems used in the engineering and manufacturing industry.

Many of those using such systems assume they will not need this additional function. However, says Pesticcio: "Companies say 'we've got PLM and it deals with this issue. We can find all of our parts because we've got all the part codes sorted out'. However, when we do a parts analysis on their PLM data, we usually find that their part codes system isn't as good as they thought it was… it's always been a case of 'garbage in, garbage out'.

The quality of data really does count and a lot of the companies that have put in a PLM system are under pressure to get the system up and running as soon as possible." Ultimately, the process only works if this search process is instituted as a process step that cannot be circumvented. However, with that proviso, the potential savings would appear to be considerable. We often come across PLM systems that contain the data, but unfortunately it's often just been dumped in there. So really, it needs to be cleared up before it goes in there."

Paul Fanning

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