Search Tools for Engineering that help R&D and Product Development
Dick Bourke posted on January 17, 2014 |

My continuing review of the many searching methods and available software tools prompts me to refine how I describe Search & Discovery Solutions (SDS). I previously thought of SDS as only semantic-based and operating within the enterprise Intranet. It now covers all forms of search, including geometric, relational database methods and Internet.

Added dimensions of SDS are coming from the general search community, in addition to those with engineering/product development roots.

To put into perspective the emerging vendor/software alternatives, I'll first identify a frame of reference, which I call the spectrum of Research & Development (R&D) through to New Product Development (NPD).  On one extreme is R&D – pure research; at the other is NPD – on-going product development, as well as enhancements to an existing product. In between are some blendings, such as applied research. The extremes are easy to label; the in-between gets a bit fuzzier.

In the R&D area of the spectrum, representative software tools from the universal search community include:

  • Attivio – Active Intelligence Engine 
  • BA Insight – Agile Information Integration   
  • Coveo – Advanced Enterprise Search 
  • Sinequa – Real-Time Big Data Search & Analytics Platform 

In general, these vendor's products have similar characteristics: proprietary search engines, advanced semantic processing, document processing orientation, Internet capabilities and reference customers. Research firms such as pharmaceutical companies seem to characterize the ideal use case. At this end of the spectrum, patent searching on the Internet is a critical need for them. Typically, the ability to access CAD file content is not a requirement.    

On the other end of the R&D – NPD spectrum, consider NPD processes. Semantic-based tools are in play.  Content within drawings represent relevant product data.  And for MCAD environments, geometric search could be in play.  In this area, I recognized some software tools in my previous articles. Here are two more:

  • Perception Software – Encompass 
  • NorthRidge –  Discover Enterprise 

Call these tool sets "point solutions." They address the needs of design departments.  They also help product development processes in downstream departments such as manufacturing engineering and purchasing. The Apache/Solr (open source) search engine is commonly used with enhancements by the vendor or third party firms. And these tool sets usually include software connectors to extract information from places other than engineering records such as ERP systems or text documents outside of engineering. Some of these point solutions are embedded in PLM systems.

So far in my columns, I've listed some "representative" software tools. Caution: Not including any particular tool set could mean that they are still "under review," such as IBM's Rational Engineering Lifecycle Manager, Infor's Enterprise Search and more. Of course, I may have missed others, so flag me and I will check them out.

Will search software tool vendors be pushed out of their comfort zones into other areas of the spectrum? Or will they do so as part of their go-to-market strategy? I would say that's very likely.  Also, an enterprise's need for complete spectrum coverage and the availability of many vendor/software alternatives supports the idea that two or more tools may be essential to solidify a comprehensive search strategy, so co-existence – without integration – is a possibility. Other ways could be by alliances, acquisitions, or internal development.

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