How 3D Scanning Is Building Better Design Workflows
Written By: Gavin Quinlan

Reinventing the wheel, as any engineer will tell you, is rarely the best use of time and resources.  Yet designs are lost and recreated all the time. Old files become obsolete--think vellum and floppy drives.  Companies change management or owners. Processes change. People move on. Who knows where Hal stashed that deck lid design before he retired?

Scanning is used to make replacement parts for rare cars

Only 340 of these Lotus 340R concept cars were manufactured in 1998. C.Ideas, a rapid prototyping company, provides replacement parts today by scanning the old cars, modifying them as needed in 3D CAD, and printing them. Image by yasulotus340r - Own work

Yet those old – even obsolete – designs are still valuable.  They represent solutions to problems that will likely arise again, probably in new forms.  And in many cases, the best record of a successful design is embodied in the physical product itself.

Enter 3D scanning.  

Using a relatively low cost 3D scanner, engineers can now easily convert the design of a physical product into a parametric 3D solid model that can be opened, manipulated, and refined in a modern 3D CAD software platform. Combined with new advances in 3D printing, prototyping and product improvement are quickly becoming a closed loop: capture a design as it exists in the real world, find ways to improve it, and then create it again.

With the right software tools (such as PTC Creo’s Reverse Engineering extension), 3D scanning has been seamlessly integrated in many engineering shops, to create smooth and efficient innovation workflows.  Not only are these organizations now better able to reuse existing designs and recover substantial value from old and discontinued products, but with this new boost to rapid prototyping, they can also respond to market changes fast – and speed time to market, when they have little time to lose.

scanned part shown in 3D CAD system

 A scanned object is modified in a 3D CAD system.

More importantly, 3D scanning and automated reverse engineering are proving to be critical technologies in a near future marketplace defined by mass customization.  Soon the market value of product will no longer exist in the product itself, but rather in the myriad ways that the product can be modified and customized for a specific customer’s needs.  3D scanning will continue to play a large role in that trend as product designers everywhere look for new opportunities to deliver customization options to their customers.

Sometimes, reinventing the wheel is inevitable – even, perhaps, valuable.  With new tools such as 3D scanning, tomorrow’s product designers will enjoy the power to not only preserve important innovations, but to also reinvent them as many times as needed.  All within streamlined design workflows that speed time to market, cut costs, and increase product quality.

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Tags: CAD Retail and Consumer Products Additive Manufacturing
About the Author Gavin Quinlan