Though 3D scanning has become an essential tool in designing products quickly and accurately, it's critical to note that scanning something is only part of an overall process (shown in the first picture below). While it can amazingly bring physical objects into the digital design environment, there are certain key points that are often misunderstood or overlooked. One is that 3D scan data is not the same as a CAD model. As a direct consequence, it usually can't be modified or manipulated in the same ways the design process usually requires.
In the context of CAD and 3D modeling, "reverse engineering" is the process of using specialized software (such as Geomagic DesignX) to create solid or surface models that accurately represent the shape of a scanned object. Using powerful tools in the software, we can re-construct it as smooth, cleanly-defined solids and surfaces which can then be used across multiple downstream design and manufacturing processes. Built-in deviation analysis tools guide the process by generating "heat maps" to indicate location and size of any variations that exist between the "as-built" shape of the original part and the new, reconstructed geometry.
Depending on each project's specific needs, the extent of reverse engineering performed can result in as much as highly-detailed, digital "replicas" or as little as basic representations of only certain areas of interest.
Common uses for reverse-engineered 3D scans include:
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