3D Scanning


  • Non-contact processes for accurately measuring and creating digital 3d versions of physical objects
  • Especially useful for difficult-to-measure parts e.g. freeform surfaces
  • Structured light and on-site portable laser scanning available
  • Some limitations on size, object surface finish and environment
  • Software post-processing & "clean-up" normally required for 3d scans to be usedful in downstream processes such as reverse engineering or 3d printing
  • First step in reverse engineering design workflow, if needed

See examples


In many situations basic, precision shop tools such as calipers, micrometers and gage pins can be used to inexpensively measure smaller-scale parts comprising simple, mechanical features such as rectangular pockets, holes, cylindrical bosses etc. The acquired measurements can then be used to input dimensions while creating 3d models as the design takes shape in a CAD application. But for parts with freeform / irregular surfaces or of larger-scale size, these tools quickly reach their limits.

There is an extensive list of applications and industries for which such shapes are commonplace including automotive, aerospace, boating/marine, consumer products, powersports, medical devices, outdoor recreational, etc.  3d scanning provides a major advantage to designers in these and many other industries where parts with complex geometries must quickly and accurately re-created in a digital environment.

In general, "3d scanning" refers to non-contact processes for accurately measuring a physical object and reproducing it as a digital, three-dimensional representation in software*.  Though there are currently many systems available for this purpose (some that even use X-rays, others that use calibrated photographs), two of the most commonly used in mechanical design are structured light and laser line scanners.  Both possess relative advantages and disadvantages based on their components, however they are very similar in that they are each:

  • optically-based systems using visible wavelengths of light
  • consist of a projecting component combined with at least one digital camera
  • acquire 3-dimensional information by triangulation, based upon the observable deformation of projected light / patterns from the scanner

Depending on the customer's application, we offer structured light or portable, on-site laser scanning to meet their specific needs.

After performing any necessary post-processing, which may include aligning and conditioning of the scan data, the file is ready and can be used for 3d printing, archiving, or quality control processes.  If a CAD-ready 3d model is needed, the scan file is used as the starting point for the reverse engineering process.

Common uses of 3D scanning:

  • duplicating obsolete or rare components
  • QC inspection or metrology operations / documentation of as-built parts
  • input to a reverse engineering workflow

  *It's important to note that, although 3d scanning can provide significant benefits in the overall design process, it does have limitations to consider.  Factors such as line-of-sight / feature visibility, surface conditions /color, and the scanning environment itself can have an impact on the quality of the scanning process and, in some cases, whether the object can be scanned at all.  In some cases, temporary / non-destructive surface preparation or the application of adhesive-backed markers / targets is required and may not be suitable in situations involving delicate, high-value items such as art pieces.

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