Geolus Search, The Google of 3D

19 Sep, 2007 By: Jeffrey Rowe

The huge potential for shape-based search engines has only begun to be tapped.

In the last issue of MCAD Tech News, I gave a brief overview of 3D geometry search engine technology and identified a couple of companies that develop and market that technology. This week I'll discuss Geolus Search (from UGS PLM Software ), where it came from, where it is heading, and how it works. In fact, the company is so confident about Geolus Search’s capabilities, it terms the technology “the Google of 3D” — quite a bold claim.

Geolus Search has a relatively short, but interesting, history. What is now known as Geolus Search was originally developed by software design & management AG (sd&m AG) . The company is a subsidiary of Capgemini and develops custom software and provides IT consultancy services.

In June 2006, UGS announced 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 acts as UGS PLM's search engine for assisting with the development, control, and procurement of parts to minimize the duplication of existing parts.

Prior to the acquisition by UGS, DaimlerChrysler Commercial Vehicles had used this technology for about three years as a way to enhance product design and reduce costs associated with creating duplicate or similar parts. Since the intellectual property acquisition, UGS has improved the product’s architecture and has reduced by an order of magnitude the time it takes to initially load geometry into a database that can be searched. The company has also added an application programming interface (API) so Geolus Search can be embedded into other applications. Geolus Search is now one of UGS’s PLM components, a family that also includes Parasolid and JT Open.

It’s been well known for some time that companies that adopt an automated part reuse strategy have the potential for huge cost savings resulting from the ability to search on the basis of shape to find identical or similar items. However, most companies have yet to adopt such a strategy because traditional search engines use alphanumeric characters or metadata (data about data), rather than the actual part geometry, as search criteria. Although the alphanumeric method can be useful when searching for parts using nongeometric data, such as functional descriptions, weight, or other properties, it also requires that parts be classified according to a well-defined schema (a database object that is actually derived from the Greek word for shape) as the basis for searches. This makes taking a part’s shape into account nearly impossible, or at the least, very difficult. Geolus Search, however, has overcome this difficulty.

The results of a search are shown with search criteria of
very similar shape and 70-130% of the original part size.
Click image to enlarge

UGS’s Geolus Search uses geometric CAD data for its search rather than alphanumeric characters. It can search a database of millions of parts and locate duplicate and/or similar geometry in seconds without the need for manual part preclassification. 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.

Geolus Search does have some things in common with a traditional textual search engine. For example, both approaches can do the following:

  • operate totally automatically
  • provide interactive response times
  • handle huge data volumes

This figure shows a search based on relatively simple
geometry and the results returned by Geolus Search.
Click image to enlarge

The biggest difference is that a shape-based geometric search is independent of documentation standards, attribute quality, and spoken language.

Leveraging JT
With its history and background, UGS knew that most new products are the result of modifications and improvements to existing designs. By providing manufacturers with the ability to quickly and easily locate parts based on geometric shape, Geolus Search can help stimulate new product designs by reducing the need for part redesign. Geolus Search can be used in virtually any PLM or CAD environment because it supports data formats such as VRML, STL, and JT, the latter being UGS’s 3D data format for universal visualization and collaboration. 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.

Shape-based search applications may find uses in performing these tasks:

  • Find and reuse existing parts in new concept studies.
  • Establish or extend part classification using Geolus Search to identify class candidates.
  • Identify similar parts that have previously been put out to bid and compare their pricing.
  • Reuse both design and manufacturing information, which provides a faster and more efficient design process.
  • Use in part costing and procurement, which is often dependant on geometric details for which automated costing procedures are not available. Cost estimates are simplified and more accurate when based on similar, previously manufactured parts.
  • Reuse existing production plans and tooling to produce more than one part without requiring a setup or tool change.
  • Revise and optimize spare part sets to reduce inventory.

So, does Geolus Search measure up as “the Google of 3D"? From what I recently saw and heard demonstrated, I have to say it does, and it will only get better as time goes on. The potential for 3D geometry search technology like Geolus Search is huge, and this potential market has only begun to be tapped. Although several shape search engines are on the market and are used for different purposes, new potential uses continue to be discovered and exploited because geometric shapes are the ultimate universal language. Look for Geolus Search technology to be more tightly integrated with Teamcenter, UGS’s data management suite, in the near future.

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