January 28, 2018

App Uses a 2D Photo to Search for Matching 3D CAD Parts

CADSeek Mobile, a recently released engineering shape-search tool from iSEEK Corp. of Ames, Iowa, lets users take 2D photos of parts on their Android, IOS or Windows mobile device and to use those images to automatically search their company’s 3D CAD databases for the piece pictures or for a similarly shaped part.

Small parts in particular often lose their identifying numbers, no matter whether that inventory is housed in an assembly plant, distribution center or out in the field. When those vital identifying numbers disappear and parts can’t be easily reordered, perfectly good parts are scrapped or time is wasted. Engineers spend time searching for the part within their company’s database or—failing to find it—recreate the lost part, said Abir Qamhiyah, iSeek Corp’s chief executive officer.

Manufacturers like Moen and Embraer use iSeek’s original shape-based search application, CADSeek Polaris. At those companies, designers and supply chain personnel use the application to find CAD data for part reuse, to standardization opportunities, for vendor price analysis, should-cost estimation, automated quotations, mergers and acquisitions, and for data cleanup and consolidation.

The newly released CADSeek Mobile expands the use of CADSeek to the service parts business, and, potentially, to consumers, Qamhiyah added.

With CADSeek Mobile, users take a standard 2D picture of the part they need to find. Then, they use their finger or a stylus to outline the photograph of the part. Next, they press the search button and the tool automatically begins searching for that part within the company database of 3D parts and assemblies.

Search results depict matching parts in descending order, based on shape matches, and users can click on the proper part.

The application is particularly helpful for part identification and substitution, Qamhiyah said.

In an assembly plant, orphaned parts are set aside for identification, but lack of time and labor often leads to the inventory being scrapped, he said.

In the field, technicians and parts counter personnel often need to play detective, trying to identify parts with too few clues to assist them.

Service parts often have nearly identical substitutes that may differ in material or color but that can stand in for the original part with only minor modification. But information about parts that can be easily substituted can’t typically be easily found when searching part catalogs manually.

On the other hand, CADSeek Mobile understands geometric shape, allowing it to simultaneously identify a design and also find highly similar variants that might substitute, Qamhiyah said.

The tool works for 3D-printed parts as well.

CADSeek Mobile can match a design from its 2D photo, not only to native CAD formats but also to the STL format, providing an efficient path from photo to 3D printer.

“Driven by the need to cut inventory cost and speed delivery, on-demand manufacturing will mainstream the fabrication of service parts by 3D printing,” Qamhiyah said. “Currently, the obstacle is in asking the user to upload a CAD file to get an instantaneous quotation. The end-user requiring the service parts, on the other hand, does not have access to CAD models.”

CADSeek Mobile provides the solution by bridging the gap between a worn-out part, and that part’s digital representation, which is required for 3D printing, he added.

“On-Demand manufacturing will motivate providers to evolve from being 3D printing hardware centers to becoming digital content licensors of the files needed for on-demand manufacturing of service parts,” Qamhiyah said.

With the end-users photo of the needed part, the on-demand manufacturer can then use CADSeek Mobile technology to identify the part’s digital representation, 3D print it and ship it to the customer, he added.

His company’s new mobile release can also be used to produce 3D replicas of statues, sculptures, jewelry or other items.

For this, the user would first capture a 2D image of the object. This could be a photo of the actual article, a photograph of an image on a computer display. Or, users could create a hand-drawn sketch on the screen of a tablet using the sketch module within the application, Qamhiyah said.

The 2D image is then used to initiate a search by the mobile application to identify similar shaped objects in one or more databases.

The specific selection from the search results will then provide a digital representation STL file for the 3D printing process. Finally, the 3D printer fabricates the finished product for use by the consumer, Qamhiyah said.


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