Reverse engineering is an important step in design, manufacturing and engineering processes. It is the means by which existing parts and systems are measured and analysed so they can be reproduced or improved.
This blog looks at some of the benefits that 3D scans and other elements of additive manufacturing can bring to reverse engineering projects.
How can industry benefit from reverse engineering with 3D scans?
Reverse engineering with 3D scans is a process with applications in a wide variety of industries.
For heavy industries like oil and gas, reverse engineering provides designers and engineers with an opportunity to put parts and components into computer software, even if they were manufactured before CAD technology was available. This means that the oil and gas industry – and any other industry that relies on heavy, ruggedised machinery, such as shipping, construction and mining – can continually improve its machine systems without having to redesign the entire system.
The aerospace and automotive industries can both benefit from reverse engineering with 3D scans. In these industries, bringing new innovations to market is important to retaining a competitive edge. Equally important is quickly understanding competitor products, and if needed amending pipeline products to meet the new market opened up by the competitor. Reverse engineering with 3D scans provides a way of doing this quickly and with minimal resources.
As well as speed and efficiency, a major benefit of reverse engineering with 3D scans is the extremely high resolution that 3D scans can now produce. This means that even complex, organic shapes and surfaces can be accurately scanned and translated into a CAD model. As such, reverse engineering with 3D scans also sees medical applications. For example, prosthetic shells can now be designed as close as possible to the wearer’s existing leg, creating a better fit and experience for the patient.
Reverse engineering and 3D scans
Reverse engineering was – until the advent of 3D scan technology – a very labour- and resource-intensive endeavour. Traditionally, engineers would have to make extensive and complicated series of measurements. These left a lot of room for error.
Destructive testing – where parts or components are placed under controlled amounts of stress until they break, revealing information about the part or component. Of course, this is resource intensive.
3D scanning technology has enabled reverse engineering to become a straightforward and relatively cheap design process. Engineers can now simply scan the part or component they are working with, and use that scan to create a high resolution CAD model.
This model can be further improved to remove imperfections, add features, or create prototypes to better understand the part or component.
Benefits of 3D scanning in reverse engineering
The most pressing benefit of reverse engineering with 3D scans for most companies will be its efficiency: the speed with which high quality scans can be produced compared to lengthy series of measurements can save companies valuable resources in terms of engineers’ time as well as raw materials and expensive products. As well as this, 3D scans are exponentially more precise than models made using manual measurements, with resolutions down to the microlevel.
Here are some more benefits of reverse engineering with 3D scans.
You can do it with fewer resources
The speed and efficiency mentioned above means that design processes can take up less time as well as using less materials. Also, with CAD models for the entire machine or system, changes to parts being reverse engineered can be tested with the rest of the system digitally first.
You can quickly get measurements
3D scanners can take precise and detailed measurements of the shapes of objects in seconds. This benefits reverse engineering by removing barriers to quickly finding out about objects being analysed, giving engineers more freedom to work creatively.
Much more precise
3D scanners are able to provide extremely high-resolution outputs. Previously, reverse engineering would depend on a series of measurements being made manually – which of course introduces a lot of room for error. Instead, scanners can quickly and accurately collect surface measurements, even in the hands of lay people.
Less manual intervention
Because 3D scans in reverse engineering processes remove the need for engineers to make numerous and complex measurements, it means the part is handled less. This removes opportunities to accidentally alter or damage the part, as well as removing the chance of incorrect measurements.
Far higher resolution
3D scans are capable of producing digital outputs at extremely high levels of resolution. This means that minor imperfections can be spotted in original parts, giving engineers much more information to diagnose problems or find improvements while reverse engineering, even with organic shapes.
Easy to simply redesign
When using 3D scans in reverse engineering, CAD models are produced which can be easily edited at any stage. This simplicity allows engineers to redesign sections of the part or component, slowly add and improve features in an iterative design process, or return to the part or component in the future to make further improvements.
Recreate parts designed before digital technology was available
Making a 3D scan of a part that was designed before CAD technology was available gives engineers the opportunity to input the new CAD data into software which they can use to analyse entire systems.
Allows for optimisation and value engineering
The ease and simplicity of reverse engineering with 3D scans opens up the process to more and more applications. This means that value engineering can be performed in areas where it would previously be prohibitively expensive, allowing for designers and engineers to continually seek improvements for machines and systems.
Analyse or compare products
Reverse engineering with 3D scans enables companies to quickly analyse and compare competitor products. It is also possible to compare the same product that was manufactured in a different facility, or compare products with proposed design changes to originals easily and efficiently.
Creating digital 3D scans can help make communication between different teams at different stages of research, design and manufacture much more seamless. Instead of trusting measurements from another department, potentially in another part of the world, teams can be confident that their 3D scan data is accurate and usable.
Enables rapid prototyping
Reverse engineering with 3D scans makes it possible to rapidly produce (using CAD models and 3D printers) and test prototypes. Prototypes can even be tested for mechanical properties and tolerances digitally, which is much more efficient than destructive testing and can help engineers to spot problems with designs at an early stage.
Greater quality of scan and model
With high-resolution 3D scanning, products that have been reverse engineered will exceed or at least match the quality of the original part. Combined with the speed, efficiency and accuracy of 3D scanning, this means that reverse engineering projects will easily achieve good returns on investment.