File Sharing/Publishing

Virtual Parts and Online Catalogs

16 May, 2004 By: Don LaCourse

Engineering services online continue to improve.

CALL ME OLD-FASHIONED (or just call me old), but when I was an overworked and underpaid automotive designer, I was proud of my collection of part catalogs. When company representatives came to see me, they didn't leave without parting with a shiny new binder of glossy product pictures, specifications, and dimension tables. Now you can find the biggest and best collections of parts and catalogs this old designer could ask for at your fingertips, all online. They're always up to date with the latest offerings and innovations, with drawings and models ready to download and place in your design.

3DPartStream.NET from SolidWorks Corp. is designed for companies to build dynamic 3D online catalogs (figure 1).

Figure 1. This catalog, based on SolidWorks 3D PartStream.NET v6, streamlines ordering of replacement parts.

The catalogs can contain product information, 3D CAD models, and 2D drawings that users can download in many native formats, including AutoCAD, Inventor, CATIA, Pro/ENGINEER, Solid Edge, SolidWorks, and Unigraphics. You can access many of these catalogs at

Application Note Document that illustrates how a specific product can be used

CRM Customer Relationship Management

ERP Enterprise Resource Planning

Material Properties Attributes such as hardness, density, deflection temperature, electrical resistivity, conductivity, and heat capacity for any material

Patents Grant inventors sole rights to their inventions. For a limited time, others are prohibited from making, using, or selling that invention. Patents are generally issued by publishing authorities such as the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office)

RFQ Request for Quotation

Standards Measure of comparison for quantitative or qualitative value

3DPartStream.NET offers a dynamic model generation engine that represents an entire product family with a single 3D model that you can easily upload and manage on a server. Hosting is included.

When you request a specific product configuration, the parametric CAD engine generates the exact 3D model or 2D drawing on the fly. You can track catalog use statistics on a monthly, quarterly, and annual basis, including the number of model views and downloads.

A 3D Content Manager controls complete product families or individual product configurations. You can manage thousands of product configurations with varying dimensions, features, colors, and accessories. You can add, remove, and manage parameter values such as bore size and stroke length.

A wizard helps you establish configuration rules specific to your product line by guiding you through the process of creating the logic behind how customers configure your products. You can incorporate RFQ (request for quotation) capabilities that link to your order management, CRM (customer relationship management), or ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems. is home base for IMSI's growing online parts collection. Here IMSI has consolidated the CAD parts libraries, such as, that it's acquired in the past year. The site claims to offer more than 8 million mechanical parts. You first specify a part family such as gears, motors, and mold components, then indicate a manufacturer or standard and component type within the family. You can further narrow search results by selecting type and size. Download options include DWG, DXF, IGES, ACIS, and native formats for Inventor, SolidWorks, and Solid Edge. A handy preview image changes to show what you'll be downloading for each option. A one-month subscription is $49.95, and the annual fee is $199.95.
GlobalSpec is a specialized search engine and information resource for engineers (figure 2).

Figure 2. GlobalSpec is an engineering search engine and information resource that searches for content protected by firewalls and registration.

Engineers and technical buyers can use GlobalSpec to search for and locate products and services, learn about suppliers, and access comprehensive technical content on standards, patents, specifications, designs, materials, and application notes.

GlobalSpec crawls and indexes the Web, focusing on engineering-related information. It filters out what you don't want and delivers relevant results in a form it calls the Engineering Web. GlobalSpec also searches what it refers to as the hidden Web-engineering content protected by firewalls, content that requires registration, fee-based content, and dynamically generated content. These include application notes, materials properties, patents, and standards.
Kellysearch is a relative newcomer to the U.S. market, but has collected supplier information for manufacturers in the United Kingdom since 1799. You can search by company or product/service, then narrow the results by selecting subcategories. Unfortunately, at this stage in development there's no easy way to tell whether a supplier has CAD drawings available for download.
Thomas Industrial Network offers a comprehensive online resource for the manufacturing industry, including detailed product information, company information, and CAD drawings (figure 3).

Figure 3. ThomasNet includes more than 650,000 distributors, manufacturers, and service companies grouped into 67,000 detailed industrial categories. integrates search technology with Thomas' classification system and editorial expertise. It's a hybrid search engine and online directory. The directory includes details from more than 650,000 distributors, manufacturers, and service companies within 67,000 industrial categories. Industrial suppliers can use the Catalog Navigator to create a detailed searchable product catalog on their own Web sites.

You can search according to technical specifications such as length, width, diameter, and other attributes. Or browse a comprehensive table of contents. You can find, download, and insert CAD drawings for mechanical and electrical parts (PartSpec), plant-design components and systems (PlantSpec), and architectural and building products (CADBlocks). Thomas also offers services such as designing, building, and hosting suppliers' Web sites.
Trace Parts is a comprehensive standard parts library compatible with AutoCAD, CATIA, Inventor, Mechanical Desktop, Pro/ENGINEER, Solid Edge, SolidWorks, thinkdesign, and Unigraphics (figure 4).

Figure 4. Trace Parts offers more than 22 million parts, including fasteners, shaft ends, keys, gears, bearings, pneumatic and hydraulic cylinders, flanges, and reducers.

Available both on a CD-ROM and as an Internet portal, it offers more than 22 million standard parts from a number of manufacturers. The Trace Parts interface is easy to learn and use. You can use different search engines and 2D/3D viewers to browse the expansive parts database.

When you launch the Trace Parts CD-ROM directly from your CAD software, selected parts are automatically inserted into your assembly, with detailed BOM (bill of materials) data such as part name, reference, manufacturer, and standards. Once you select a part, you can automatically generate its 2D views in DWG or DXF format. You can easily download new parts catalogs and product updates through a maintenance contract.

The Virtual Shelf
What a wonderful virtual world. In just a few clicks, you can find catalogs that contain hundreds of thousands of parts and suppliers, CAD drawings ready to download, and 3D parts ready to insert. The increase in engineering productivity is profound, but also a little sad. I miss those old catalogs and the friendly faces that came to visit.

Even so, the old designer in me relishes the thought of having so many choices to work with and the time to test them all. There was never enough time to look at every catalog on my old shelf. If they could only discolor the Web pages a little and let me write in the margins, I'd really be happy!

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