You need a part. You need a component. You need a tool.

But you're not quite sure what to call it. So how can you search for it?

As 3D printing continues to evolve, and as 3D modeling (through low-cost scanners and cloud-based CAD software) has become more widely available and a lot less expensive, the amount of 3D data found online data has increased exponentially.

But it's hard to search 3D data using text and keywords. To make it simple, say you need a certain type of screw. You have an idea of the length, but what about the pitch of the threads? What about the thread diameter? What about the head size and type? Unless you already have complete specs, you'll get thousands of search results to sift through--and most of them you won't be able to make sense of.

That's where 3D search technology, like that developed by 3D, may provide an answer. The company's first product, the platform, is specifically designed for the manufacturing industry and lets companies that buy industrial components find suppliers.

"Our search tools are highly disruptive to the conventional and pervasive sourcing process that remains opaque, inefficient, and costly," says Dr. Seena Rejal, founder of 3D "Our search tools represent the democratization of industrial sourcing."

While "disruptive" is an often-used word, 3D search does have the potential to dramatically change the search experience for manufacturers, suppliers, and end-users. Many engineered parts and components require specialized knowledge to source: dimensions, specifications, key features, etc. Three-dimensional search can potentially make it possible for non-engineers and specialists to find what they need.

Rejal began beta testing in 2012, and the platform now includes hundreds of long-tail small- and medium-sized suppliers and manufacturers and thousands of components. And the basic tools are free, although manufacturers can purchase premium services.

The company also provides customizable search solutions that can allow manufacturers to manage, search, and access in-house databases, flag IP and content infringements, and create their own online databases of 3D models for potential customers to access.

"Imagine being able to search for a component in the global supply chain using shape alone," says Rejal. "3D search turns an outdated process--industrial part sourcing--into an extremely efficient and effective process."

If you're a manufacturer in need of the right parts and components, you should be hoping he's right.