Useful Search Applications for Finding Engineering Data
Dick Bourke posted on May 19, 2015 |
How to find the best engineering search solution: Part 1 – Text based searches
With countless search applications on the market that promise to find your engineering data, selecting the right solution for your company is a tricky feat. To help you make a decision, I will identify and describe a number of different resources. Then, I’ll comment on the Google Search Appliance and the widely used Microsoft SharePoint in the engineering/manufacturing search environment. 

In Part I of this series, my focus is on text-based solutions. Stay tuned for Part II, where I’ll delve into geometric ones. 

Point Solutions: Text-Oriented                 

The benefits of design reuse are the marketing mantra. When demonstrating a search and discover solutions (SDS) product, presenters will focus on how much it costs a company to duplicate parts. The cost reduction is one of many benefits that search evaluation teams need to identify when defining a return on investment (ROI). 

Each SDS vendor uses different approaches to help customers achieve their desired values and utilize technology described in Where Search and Discover Solutions Fit in Product Development.  A wide range of capabilities exists, thus necessitating a thoughtful and thorough evaluation.

An SDS implies action. Discovering duplicated parts is the first step to reap the benefits of design reuse. Increasing pressures — for instance, time-to-market and environmental considerations — encourage unifying design activities with the supply chain with component and supplier management (CSM) capabilities:

  • Component — to support selection, design reuse, and access to digital component catalogs, (including 3D models, for example), new part introduction processes that negate assigning duplicate part numbers.
  • Supplier — to support vendor selection, enhance collaborative product development, drive part rationalization and reduce the risks in the supply chain

What Are the Resources?

I've identified three different types of resources: 1) PLM and PDM packages with search capabilities, 2) independents and 3) add-ons that can enhance the value of an SDS.

In addition, I’ve cited two well-known resources that I had not identified in earlier publications:

  • Google — Google Search Appliance (GSA)

  • Microsoft — SharePoint platform

The presence of these two highly visible companies and widespread use of their products raises major implications for those marketing in the SDS environment and challenges for search solution evaluators. After the resources section, I’ll comment further on these two.


This company’s product, Alcove9, is an advanced search solution based on open source software using keywords and conceptual and multifaceted options. It can access content in over 300 different file formats and 2D/3D CAD files, including unstructured file folders and structured data platforms such as PDM/PLM, ECM (SharePoint) and ERP solutions. The product is fully integrated into the Aras Innovator PLM platform. 


In Autodesk PLM 360, the acquired search tool, Inforbix, provides semantic-based capabilities in line with the description in Where Search and Discover Solutions Fit in Product Development.  It uses an index and cloud-based technology that semantically connects different data types. Partnerships include Octopart, a search engine for electronic parts.  

Convergence Data

This company offers three products. The purpose of its core product, Design for Retrieval (DFR), is to “extract, cleanse, enrich and manage part data to optimize engineering and procurement effectiveness,” according to the vendor. DFR is an SQL 0r Oracle-based application focused on developing and maintaining part classification hierarchies and attribute values. The last step (manage) provides governance and two-way import/export to other corporate systems. Two additional products include SmartFind (web-based search) that draws on DFR and webDFR, which is a web-based version of DFR. To support CSM, CDS provides analytical tools and input from external sources of compliance data, standards and content providers, such as IHS or SiliconExpert. 


DDM is a configurable PDM solution based on SQL technology that supports most CAD packages and office-based documents. The search capabilities are in a module within DesignDataManager PDM; three levels of text searching (free, simple and advanced) allow inquiries with multiple attributes identified. The company offers DDM as a single site solution, or multi-site with replication for database and file servers. Free trials are available.


With its Directworks service application as an add-on, this company supports the supplier phase of CSM. Directworks offers its service through a public, multitenant Software as a Service (SaaS) on a .NET architectural platform. The service provides analytical information, such as executive dashboards and reports. A collaboration capability in a secure environment allows supplier input on product development.


Knovel is one of Elsevier’s offerings for digital information solutions. As a web-based subscription service, Knovel addresses the R&D, design and process optimization needs of engineers for validated content from authoritative sources (over 120) and data analysis tools. Keyword inquiries generate displays in relevance-ranked order and with facets to refine additional searching. 

Text and numeric range options provide deeper inquiry into tables, graphs and equations; exporting to Excel allows detailed analysis. Filtering is done with Search Within. Drag-and-drop capabilities support query building. A built-in math engine makes graphs, tables and equations interactive. Concurrent yearly pricing is quoted by subject areas and different user models. Promotional packages allow for a limited time trial with a small data set. 


The Google Search Appliance (GSA) is a hardware/software tool to provide search capabilities for a company’s intranet and document management systems. Two hardware models provide a choice: GB-7007 can index up to 10 million documents and GB-9009 up to 30 million. Add-ons from third parties connect a wide range of other enterprise systems and repositories (for instance, PTC’s Windchill and EMC’s Documentum). Software licensing is on a term basis, either two or three years at a time, inclusive of support and software updates.


In the context of Point Solutions — text and CSM — IHS provides numerous capabilities to support both phases of CSM, primarily in three applications: Engineering 360 (folds in GlobalSpec), BOM Management and IHS CAPS+4D. The applications utilize keyword and parametric searching and offer access to numerous standards, supplier catalogs and other reference information. IHS Goldfire has been previously identified in the special purpose classification, encompassing applications across the full spectrum of the product lifecycle.


Infor has entered into an OEM agreement to sell Aras’s PLM Accelerate to the high-end, discrete market. The search capabilities are provided as an enhancement by two independent vendors: either Alcove9 or NorthRidge Software, whose search engines are embedded in PLM Accelerate.

Infor Enterprise Search (IES) is intended for Infor ERP customers. Based on open source technology (Lucene), the IES search engine is database independent. The full-text search for both unstructured and structured data initiated by keyword/Boolean logic provides facets and filters to assist users. IES understands content and relationships to present information while adhering to security policies. 


SharePoint 2013 is a broad platform and development framework covering collaboration, content, document management and search. The embedded search capabilities are provided at no additional cost. Connectors are available for indexing content held in other repositories and file systems. Microsoft has two versions of SharePoint available at no cost, sells premium editions with additional functionality, and provides a cloud service edition as part of its Office 365 platform. The product is also sold through a cloud model by many third-party vendors. In the PLM community, Siemens PLM Software uses SharePoint for its Solid Edge Insight.


This company offers 1) a tool for designing a standard data structure and 2) services for populating its client’s data structure. The tool uses semantic processing capabilities to analyze existing unstructured product definitions to design a classification scheme that allows fast search results to narrow the user choices. In a cloud-based approach, the tool provides a high level of security in a collaborative environment. The user interface facilitates the collaborative design of the classification structure.

As a service, Noetic-Data offers a range of activities, such as workshops, data development and publishing through a flexible, tiered pricing arrangement. I recently described the company in New Company Provides Structured Data for Engineering Search & Discover Solutions.

NorthRidge Software    

The Discover Enterprise suite provides a keyword search experience, aided by faceted filtering and   multiple presentation options, e.g. snippet and grid views. The suite uses open source software (Apache/Solr) available in Linux or Windows environments. Discover Innovator has been fully integrated into the Aras Innovator PLM platform with a configurable user interface. The company recently announced a partnership with Lucidworks (Solr services firm) to provide a Solr-powered enterprise search platform.


Under the heading of Oracle Product Value Chain, the core product is the Product Data Hub. It is identified as a Master Data Management application to ensure a single product definition that can be used throughout the company. Significant capabilities include Data Maintenance and Enrichment (data cleansing) and Data Governance. Companion products include Enterprise Data Quality for Product Data and Secure Enterprise Search. 

Perception Software 

This company’s two core products use Apache Solr technology and are offered for Windows or Linux environments with a choice of on-premise or cloud-based (EC2) service:

1.       Encompass Enterprise Navigation is sold directly to organizations with disparate data sources.

2.       AgileEXPLORER (AX) for Oracle Agile PLM is sold through OEMs and System Integrators. AX features include security, parametric search, guided navigation and connectors to all objects in Agile and other enterprise systems.

Optional modules include A New Part Request to ensure against assigning duplicate part numbers, and connectors to access catalog resources, such as IHS and Silicon Expert.  


The Windchill PartsLink Classification and Reuse module is for users of Windchill PDMLink. The emphasis is on classification creation/maintenance to facilitate searching. The latter is based on keyword and catalog browsing with full-text capabilities grounded on Apache/Solr and SQL. Fishbowl Solutions, Inc. provides a GSA Connector for PTC Windchill. Unlike Dassault Exalead and Siemens PLM Software, PTC does not offer geometric search capabilities, but several third party sources provide them.                                                                            


This company’s applications for search include:

1.       SAP NetWeaver Enterprise Search is a text-oriented tool for inquiries by keyword/Boolean entries to find structured and unstructured data in both SAP and non-SAP objects. Advanced search capabilities to drill-down (facets and filtering) are role-based with results presented by ranking logic. The user interface choices include desktop, web and mobile. APIs allow a single point of search to other search engines.

2.       SAP Master Data Governance for Material is the means to maintain/view product data within security restrictions that are role-based.

3.       SAP offers a fuzzy search capability for HANA in which fault-tolerant inquiry is allowed. 

Siemens PLM Software

Active Workspace is a combination of a Teamcenter client and backend services. Users initiate searching by keyword/Boolean inquiries, providing full-text searching with filtering by combinations of values and other properties, such as the object’s classification. Other capabilities include facets, visual reporting of relationships, relevance ranking/sorting and context-awareness based on roles. The technology is a combination of open source and proprietary software that runs on any browser that supports HTML5.  

BCT Technology

A partner of Siemens PLM Software that supports Teamcenter with BCT aClass, a classification/attributes system for management of structured product data.

For shape-based searching, customers have the option to initiate Geolus from within Teamcenter. Unifying text and geometric searching allows search refinement on attributes of parts under analysis.


Enterprise Product Data Management (EPDM) provides search capabilities at no additional charge. Users initiate keyword/Boolean searches with full-text capabilities to access data created in EPDM’s Data Cards and stored in the vault. Capabilities include facets and filtering to aid user searching. Access to related files can be done by storing them in the vault. EPDM is constructed on MS SQL technology and functions in a multi-CAD environment though most current customers are SOLIDWORKS users.  

Synergis Software

 Adept is an enterprise PDM system that is CAD-agnostic and based on MS SQL. The full-text searching capabilities are initiated using Boolean search terms. It allows searching for system, custom fields or attributes/properties extracted from MS Word and Excel, AutoCAD, MicroStation and Inventor. Adept’s File Guide facilitates browsing with an Explorer-like tree structure using any combination of metadata tracked in Adept.

As I wrap up this section, I should stress that my identification of vendors is representative. If you don’t see an alternative here, be aware of what’s next. In Part ll, I’ll review some geometric-based search resources including, but not limited to, 3DSemantix (3DPartFinder), Actify (Centro), Applied Search Technology (CAD), CADENASpartsolutions, Enfino (Bingo!), Exalead (OnePart and Reduce), iSEEK (CADSEEK), ShapeSpace Ltd (ShapeSpace) and Siemens PLM Software (Geolus).

What about Google Search Appliance and SharePoint 2013?

Search Technologies, a major consulting firm, indicated a rising interest in engineering and manufacturing applications; civil engineering and other large-project scenarios, such as utility and high-tech manufacturing companies, are examples.

SDS evaluation teams may find themselves under political pressure to use them if possible. In large companies, this high-level decision will likely be driven from the CIO/CTO’s office. These products don’t provide engineering-specific functionality. They do, however, provide strong core search capabilities that can be used for text-based search in engineering applications.

Google Search Appliance (GSA)

The GSA is popular; tens of thousands have been licensed. However, the GSA technology must be viewed as an excellent, but raw indexing technology. For engineering applications, search evaluation teams may need to spend significant time to ensure that the technology is suitable. 

Microsoft SharePoint

Large organizations across industry sectors are adopting SharePoint in a number of configurations. It has a highly credible legacy built on FAST technology. Evaluation teams may struggle to justify another search tool when an apparently capable one is already available through an umbrella deal with Microsoft. The pros and cons have been extensively debated and reported by numerous consulting firms.  As an associate says, “Despite the implications, many companies are committed to staying the course.”  

SharePoint 2016 was recently announced. Microsoft is heavily pushing a “cloud strategy,” which includes an online version of SharePoint. However, it has comparatively limited search functionality. The reality is that most Microsoft-oriented companies will be living in a hybrid, cloud/ground environment. This reality introduces additional complexities for search evaluation teams.

Evaluating the Alternatives — Your Next Steps

Choices abound; core SDS software and add-ons. Choices imply thoughtful evaluation; user evaluation teams need to resolve a number of factors before selecting an SDS. A few include:

  • Developing a strategy through a creeping commitment approach, starting with general demos and proceeding through free trials and finally a formal proof of concept.
  • Determining the extent of cleansing the classification/attribute data and other metadata needed to assure valid discovery and, hence, realize the value of design reuse initiatives. Note: Recognizing the extent of cleansing should be a by-product of a proof of concept. 

  • Estimating the to-be-expected costs to customize the SDS to the company’s environment. Every  company has a unique combination of products, technical vocabulary and content legacies.

  • Developing a complete ROI for C-level approval, including the total cost of ownership; don’t prematurely focus on the bare cost of the tool.

Keep in mind that the key objective for selecting and implementing an SDS is to create a rich and accurate search index — a foundation for productive search applications that helps users deliver the ROI. 


Thanks to Search Technologies for providing input to this article. Those of you particularly interested in best practices for search may wish to follow its Search Chronicles Blog.

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