solidworks-partbrowserHey, I see you’re NOT rockin’ a desktop search program to find all your 3D CAD models. Ya know, one that indexes network folders and puts up cool little visuals to show what the models look like? Yeah, you’re probably making a bunch of shortcuts to your files or trying to find stuff through one of those PDM programs yeah?

Searching for models. It’s a pain if you don’t have the right tool. But even with a good search in a PDM program, you don’t have a lot of options for how to find your models.

ShapeSpace is planning to change this. And with their new beta launch of PartBrowser, the search for desktop 3D searching looks much brighter.

When you think ‘desktop search‘ you may imagine the Microsoft or Google applications that index all matter of data in a very annoyingly, inefficient way… in my opinion. If you want to find a 3D model, a SolidWorks part, an assembly, drawing, or other 3D data, you want to find it with certain criteria and, I’d think, have some visual results. It is 3D after all.

PartBrowser takes the desktop search concept and adds nearly everything you would expect to find in an app used to find that 3D data.

PartBrowser’s features:

  • Search-by-shape
  • Browse-by-shape
  • Text search
  • Visual browser
  • Duplicate finding
  • Automatic indexing

Videos of all features

Do they actually work?
Yes, indeed they do, some good, some very good and maybe some room for a few minor improvements. The results?

After you do an initial search for a part and select one is when it gets really interesting. This is when you have the options to search by similar – shape, size, shape and size, external shape, external size, external shape and size, cross-section shape, cross-section shape and size or all of the above. Phew! Is that enough options for you?

The result returned a lot more parts than I needed and duplicates. It did put the most relevant up front which is nice. It searched some folders I didn’t need it to, in which I discovered a bunch of .STL and .STEP files that didn’t need to be there. So, a neat alternative use to PartBrowser… finding crap that shouldn’t be there. (You guys should add that to your list.)

This creates a visual of example parts that you can browse quickly to narrow down what you’re looking for. You don’t have to enter any criteria, just pick the folder and turn your gaze upon the visual browser to find some parts.
One-two combo tip – Use Browse-by-shape then Search-by-shape to quickly find similar models.

Text Search
This is what you’ll use most at first. I put in a number of different types of criteria that spanned file names, custom properties, and file properties with fairly good results.I even tried some shape and feature names which also returned results, although it wasn’t apparent what it was that caused them to appear.

The one issue I had is not being able to find some items using custom properties. This made it a little difficult to find, say, a screw when it’s part of the description in the custom properties. I’m not exactly sure why it would find some and not other. A topic to discuss with the team at ShapeSpace perhaps. Here’s an image of a search by partnumber:


Visual Browser
Simple and straight forward. Although I have some suggestion about this (see way below) it more than you would get with a Windows Explorer search for sure. Plus, it sets you up to select a part in the browser, open it or search by a similar shape, size, etc. The 3D files rotate on the screen in front of you and you have options to Zoom in move to other parts, change and stop rotation of the parts. Here you get an idea of searching and zooming in on a part.


Duplicate Finding
This is an add-in you get with an upgrade to PartBrowser. I ddin’t get to try it out, but basically it finds potential duplicates for any type of CAD data regardless of file format. This would be a very useful tool, especially if you didn’t have the best data management practices.

Automatic Indexing
This is nice… if it had indexed sub-folders. Ahhhh, but wait. When you first start up PartBrowser, you’re presented with the the Index Wizard that allows you to select local and network locations to index. I picked top-level directories and when I hit ok, nothing happened. Then I realized, before you index sub-directories, you need to check an option at the top of the file browser to enable sub-directory indexing.


It might be nice to have that checkbox in the Indexing Wizard as well. After that, the indexing went fast, got a nice status bar showing the progress and I was able to immediately start performing searches.


Nice touches

  • It makes a list of your searches
  • Can search by persons name (last saved by)

These are PartBrowsser prices for the SolidEdge version (is there a difference in versions?).

Single PartBrowser Lite License – 34.00 USD
Single PartBrowser Pro License – 270.00 USD
DuplicateFinder Add-in Upgrade – 1,375.00 USD

This is an impressive CAD related beta product and one that has loads of potential besides. It feels so much better to search for a model rather than a filename or description. That is definitely the strength of PartBrowser and one I hope they focus on and refine to the point that the search results just blow us away. My one itch? With the semi-3D Visual Browser interface I wanted to rotate the entire interface so badly. I’m so use to it in 3D apps that when I see this I want to do the same thing. I think that one addition would add a lot to the visual browsing of 3D data.

Even if you have a PDM system that is good at finding 3D and related data, you’ll want to check this out and see how it works. The beta is still going on right now, so if you’re happy with how you search for 3D data and the results, give PartBrowser Beta a go and let them know how your search is different or better.

Whenever I get to play with a cool new product like this, I can’t help but have a bunch of ideas on how to extend and improve it. Here’s just a small-ish list of items. Some of these are already being addressed by

  • Add a recently browsed for browsing directories
  • Improve lag on opening a part
  • Improve search for custom properties
  • Make files on first page of results opaque, other pages (behind) transparent
  • Make page navigation pickable – like Google search results, <– 1 2 3 4 5 –>
  • Zoom to pages when clicked on the page number in display
  • Only rotate parts on active sheet (sheet in the very front)
  • Add middle mouse button navigation functionality (scroll in/out – Zoom, double-click – Zoom all, click and move mouse – Rotate)
  • Add a ‘Send to User’ (via email) or ‘Send to FTP’
  • Add a ‘Add to favorites’ for files or searches
  • Make it networkable to share favorites and search results with others
  • Add option to double-click and open file
  • Add option to hide PartBrowser after choosing to open a file
  • Add a pop-up next to or description under a file when it’s selected (like in zoom mode)
  • Add option to clear searches
  • Change color of Visual Browser background and parts

Josh is founder and editor at, founder at Aimsift Inc., and co-founder of EvD Media. He is involved in engineering, design, visualization, the technology making it happen, and the content developed around it. He is a SolidWorks Certified Professional and excels at falling awkwardly.