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Surfing for Virtual Parts PUBLIC ACCESS

New Software on the Internet makes finding the Right Component for a Design Project Almost as Easy as Clicking and Dragging.

[+] Author Notes

Bruno Valdes is an advisory engineer with IBM's Storage Products Division in Sail Jose, Calif.

Mechanical Engineering 120(07), 75-76 (Jul 01, 1998) (2 pages) doi:10.1115/1.1998-JUL-7

Abstract

A product called Design Suite by In Part, Saratoga, CA, promises to reform design catalogs upright, creative, and efficient. Pro/ENGINEER models are fully parametric and include envelope dimensions and embedded parameters, such as mass properties and part number. InPart also includes Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) models that enable users to view the part in three dimensions before downloading it. InPart says that every model goes through a quality assurance check to ensure that it represents a repeatable, detailed, and accurate model. Then the manufacturer conducts a review. Finally, InPart conducts a second check. InPart also offers Alert Assurance, a notification system that sends e-mail to alert customers to changes in a part they have used and asks if they would like an updated part. Manufacturers are said to be contractually obligated to notify InPart, even before their own customers, of product changes, so InPart's customers are the first to know about a product change.

Anyone who has done mechanical design for long enough knows that searching through paper catalogs for just the right part is probably the most time-consuming and distracting part of the job. It takes the designer off the track of the really creative parts of the project and leads to hours of mundane, frustrating searching through cryptic catalogs.

After finding a part, the designer must then pray that the catalog contains all the key dimensions to permit accurate redrawing for the assembly.

Many desperate souls have resorted to such measures as using calipers to take dimensions off the crude catalog drawing, hoping that everything is to scale.

In the end, doubt always remains whether there may not be another cheaper or smaller or lighter part that could have done the job, if only there had been time to search more thoroughly.

And a year later, who knows if that part that took so much time to research and redraw will still be current, or even still available?

Fortunately, a product called DesignSuite is now available from InPart in Saratoga, Calif., and it promises to let these poor, hunched-over catalog slaves evolve into upright, creative, and efficient design engineers.

In the past, designers, including the author, have tried to build parts libraries, but they never seemed to work right. We would become frustrated searching the libraries, and no one was really sure if the models were current. Revision-history management and file-space organization quickly became a nightmare. And the only parts that were available were the ones we took time to draw because we needed them. No one had the time to consistently add parts to the library just for the sake of building up the library. The new DesignSuite looks as if it has the potential to save time, give confidence that the models are up-to-date and accurate, and deliver them faster than one could get them by hunting through drawings or going to a standard library.

It is possible to download DesignSuite right off the Internet at www.inpart.com. All told, it took me about 20 minutes to go from installing it on my hard drive to searching for components. InPart has extensie installation and help documentation, which can be down loaded from their website. This means the information is always current, as they are constantly updating it. And the manual can't' get lost.

The Models

Currently DesignSuite contains over 150,000 models and is growing fast. Some of the leading standard component manufacturers such as Stock Drive Products/Sterling Instruments, Torrington, Jergens, Molex, and Parker Hannifin are already participating.

The models come in Pro/ENGINEER, 3-D STEP, 3-D IGES (customized for 22 computer-aided-design systems, including CATIA, SolidWorks, and Unigraphics), and 2-D DXF formats. Pro/E models are fully parametric and come with mounting features, envelope dimensions, and certain embedded parameters, such as mass properties, material and manufacturer name, and part number. Dimensions are in English and metric units.

Catalog data such as materials, performance specifications, and installation requirements accompany each component; these are scans from the paper catalog itself, so there is no need to check or cross-reference details against the catalog. InPart also includes Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) models that enable users to view the part in three dimensions before downloading it.

The user can search in three different ways. First, one can search through a hierarchical file structure. For example, the "Bearings" file is subsegmented into files for different bearings types such as "Radial Bearings," which is further subcategorized into files for different types of radial bearings, such as single- and double-pillow block bearings. Second, it is possible to search graphically, via thumbnail pictures of components. DesignSuite automatically manipulates the query and graphical search windows to match the parts categories. For example, when the user looks for a bearing, the query area changes to show only bearing attributes and associated thumbnails. Or third, if a designer knows exactly what part is needed, the model can simply be selected by entering the manufacturer's name or part number.

Once he or she has arrived at the right component category, the searcher enters one or more specifications for a part and submits a search. DesignSuite presents a list of all the matching parts with their key attributes. The user then chooses a part and clicks to the DesignSuite's Part Data Folder for more data.

The Part Data Folder contains detailed information about the component's attributes, the manufacturer's part name, catalog pages of performance data, and VRML models of the part. Clicking on the manufacturer's logo can quickly take one to the company's own home page, further facilitating the search.

From the Part Data Folder, the user selects the part, adding it to the "part bin"-the list of models InPart is to deliver. To save time, one can set up the DesignSuite CAD Preferences Manager, specifying the CAD format (along with parameter and layer names, in the case of Pro/ E). InPart's Model Maker customizes it to reflect the designer's intent by mapping any preferences into the geometry at run time, so that the models conform to the user's design standards or PDM system.

InPart says that every model goes through a quality assurance check to ensure that it represents a repeatable, detailed, and accurate model. Then the manufacturer conducts a review. Finally, InPart conducts a second check. I can't say the same for the models I build myself from catalogs. This is an industry first among catalogued parts libraries.

Though the models are valuable, they are surprisingly inexpensive. My best estimate of the cost of researching and then drawing a single model is about $175. InPart's models start at $20 and go as low as $7.50 each, depending upon volume. So the models cost one-tenth to one twenty-fifth what it costs me to draw them. InPart sells the models in packs of 50 to 1000, letting the customer buy small quantities as they are used, or larger quantities in advance to save money. DesignSuite itself sells for between $500 and $1,000 for single-seat annual subscriptions, with quantity discounts. All in all, DesignSuite pays for itself after the use of less than 10 models.

In Part also offers Alert Assurance, a notification system that sends e-mail to alert customers to changes in a part they have used and asks if they would like an updated part. Manufacturers are said to be contractually obligated to notify InPart, even before their own customers, of product changes, so InPart's customers are the first to know about a product change.

Still, I have to admit that paper catalogs can be more useful than DesignSuite for some tasks. Nothing else does such a good job of propping up my display monitor to just the right height.

Models can be downloaded in almost two dozen CAD formats, including CATIA, SolidWorks, and Unigraphics.

Grahic Jump LocationModels can be downloaded in almost two dozen CAD formats, including CATIA, SolidWorks, and Unigraphics.

Pro/ENGINEER models are fully parametric and include envelope dimensions and embedded parameters, such as mass properties and part number.

Grahic Jump LocationPro/ENGINEER models are fully parametric and include envelope dimensions and embedded parameters, such as mass properties and part number.

Copyright © 1998 by ASME
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