Reverse Engineering

The reasons for reverse engineering are many. Sometimes you don’t have access to a part’s original design documentation from its original production. To replace damaged components (for which CAD models are nonexistent), to update obsolete parts, to fit new parts into a current assembly or environment, to generate new manufacturing plans, or simply to analyze competitors’ product features.

Reverse engineering empowers you to analyze a physical part and determine how it was originally created in order to replicate, create variations, or improve on the design. Generally, the goal is to create a new CAD model for use in production and/or manufacturing.

While the concept of reverse engineering is quite simple, the process is anything but. The first step of the process involves using a 3D scanner to collect the geometric surface measurements of an existing part, quickly and accurately. Where calipers and hand tools were once the only means to take these measurements, 3D scanners and imaging technology has rapidly grown to simplify the job. However, acquiring this data can often prove challenging when trying to measure complex parts with complicated features (e.g. organic surfaces).

Typically these scanners generate their data as dense triangle mesh in obj, ply, or stl mesh formats, anywhere from a few thousand to millions of polygons. The ‘secret sauce’ is the software used to take the scans, anywhere from 10 frames per scan up to hundreds of frames per scan, and combine them accurately to form an accurate model of the item scanned.

If all you wanted was to recreate the item with a 3D printer, this is all you need. To recreate the item in CAD requires much more effort. 3D scan data can be used as a visual guide for sketching the CAD drawing. It’s pretty much tracing right on top of the scan data. This is tedious and imperfect but it can be done. Fortunately there are software applications available that greatly aid in this effort, albeit expensive and with a steep learning curve.

This is where services we offer excel. We have the necessary tools to tame the job. We can take the mesh data and quickly (relative to recreating by hand in CAD) convert the mesh model into a full solid object in SolidWorks. From there it can be exported to any other major CAD application. Contact us today for your free 3D scanning quote.

For reference, there is a great article in Quality Magazine which goes into greater detail.