I GUARANTEE you I lose and will continue to lose my phone on a daily basis. On average, I waste 5 stressful minutes a day searching for my phone in every nook and cranny of my house. This is extremely frustrating since this only happens when I am in a rush. Unfortunately, this same paradigm never fails to occur when I am sifting through large amounts of CAD data when trying to hit a deadline. I can’t tell you how many times I have tried to search my database of components for something I designed months ago and failed miserably. More often than not, I would give up after searching for several minutes and decide to redesign the component from scratch. Nothing ticked my previous boss Mike, off more than taking the company’s time to redo something I had already done. So when I heard a few Fusion 360 developers talk about this search tool on steroids, called design graph, I instantly started asking a million questions.
I think we all know the limitations of searching with Windows Explorer, the only real option is searching by the file name. In the case of CAD files, usually the file name is equal to the part number, except for all of you that have dozens of Part1.SLDPRT or Part1.ipt files saved on your hard drive. In design teams, conventional naming schemes are a must to be able to find and reuse parts. But shouldn’t we expect more out of our searching tools?
In my desktop CAD days, countless vendors pitched their Product Data Management (PDM) tools to be able to solve the problem of searching large vaults of CAD data to locate the correct tool. But PDM is a technology that was born out of the very industry that caused the problem. It’s like British Petroleum having a fleet of boats to clean up oil spills. PDM tools furthered the ability to search different properties that are associated with the design process. But that’s just it, they help search large quantities of data. While an improvement over searching in Windows, you still needed to know something about what you were looking for, something specific like a part number, description, creation date, etc… Don’t forget that it all has to be installed and if your PDM vendor is different than you CAD vendor, you usually have to hold off on upgrades. Basically it’s the reason the dude in the office that manages that mess drinks so much.
I think we can all admit that searching sucks, but not finding what you are looking for is even worse, so forget about searching, let’s talk about finding. Finding the correct design in your Fusion 360 data is exactly what Design Graph will do for a design team. Design Graph uses the near limitless compute power of the cloud to not just think, but to learn independently, identify patterns and make predictions. That sounds like a bunch of marketing jargon, but what does that mean to an engineer? Imagine an organization where multiple engineers are designing, naming, and tagging a magnitude of designs. Even the most disciplined of teams tag and name data differently. So if I were to search for a component that my boss, Mike, designed and didn’t find it, whose fault was it? Definitely mine, even though he put the incorrect part number on the design.
Let’s not start burning our CAD standards document that everyone holds so dear. All of those standards can still apply. Mike and I will have to use our standard naming convention, but Design Graph will extend our searching capabilities. Design graph recommends the best designs to me because it understands the shape and file structure used in CAD data, in addition to using labeling (tags) or metadata. Alternatively, I will use Design Graph to find similar parts to what I am designing. I would rather start with a part that is 80% similar to my end goal, rather than starting from scratch.
Once I started to really dive into Design Graph, I was able to search based on name, shape, category, properties, mass or a combination of these to find my design. Also, I noticed that identical designs appeared as a single object, while slight variations appeared as separate designs. This filtered my list of hundreds of fasteners to a more manageable decision.
Searching based off of the similarity between geometry is awesome, but after giving Design Graph a test drive, can’t we extend our filters even further? I would like to see filters that narrow down to when a specific engineer created and modified a specific version of the part. In order to make better decisions, I would urge the team to have a comparison tool to see geometrical and property difference between two selected items in a 3D viewer. Afterall, Design Graph is helping me make better decisions during the design process. If you have some awesome filter or tool that can be added to Design Graph to help your team locate and reuse components, please leave them in the comments.