Industrial 3D Scanners and Accessibility

Industrial 3D Scanners – What’s their point?

Many industries use 3d object scanner, no matter what reverse engineering field you are in these days odds are you can find at least one in a pelican case somewhere. Some users rent more costly scanners if the workload is light, while others purchase for faster turnaround on higher yield work items. The uses are almost endless for reverse engineering (RE), restorations, medical, dental, historic building remediation. Location mapping, film and entertainment, fashion, the list goes on.

Private vs Industrial 3D Scanners

The main question that many people ask is what’s the difference between a 3D scanner worth $300 compared to a $15,000 industrial 3D scanner if fundamentally the technology is the same and assuming in this instance we are talking about a mobile time-of-flight laser scanner.

Well, that is an interesting question, some would argue that low production runs drive up cost and one-to-one onsite demonstrations are required for commercial buyers with a good technical consultant and expenses rolling up to around $1,750 per day. Furthermore, technical remote support and other service contracts are usually created to confuse things further and push up prices to varying degrees.

Brand name optics and more robust design principles for circuitry could increase the prices marginally. However, in general manufacturing costs are typically 50% of the products retail cost. Software and time to develop new or advanced features could take a big chunk of change as good Software Developers in a team cost money to meet rollout deadlines.

Amalgamated into the cost is R&D for future products, typically around 20% of any net profit should be reinvested into R&D and company growth as a rule of thumb for any conventional product driven company.

Low production runs substantially impact unit price and related to customer demand. Under or over estimating impacts profitability through waste.

Another consideration is theft of IP by ‘knock-off’ products particularly being made in China, where patent laws are bias towards Chinese manufacturers.

Reducing Error

The private $300 scanner can produce apt resolutions to help ‘Makers’ 3D print family members or animate them in software or other creative enterprise they decide upon, and usually with a corresponding texture map created during the scan process. However, they are slow devices as the software does not need to be robust and error check, and you can get away with using a lightweight device and lower sized point cloud data to save data. Furthermore, as the software is slower the scan needs to be conducted slower to capture detail and mobile scanners with arm shake causes a lot of erroneous points that need to be cleaned later as well as multiple datasets what normally need to be quilted together the clean-up and takes a lot of time to do while also only approximating mesh locations leading to geometric and dimensional errors much more readily.

Working distances can be a challenge for the $300 mobile scanners. Not only you need to rescan areas where there is too much backscatter when getting too near or no data when too far away to working limits and the surfaces that are created in whatever software you use will be not only difficult for the software to calculate, geometric and dimensional tolerances these will be terrible.

So, how could you use the cheaper scanners effectively? Well, some are mounted to turntables that allow better control of movement to reduce outlying data points and ensuring most of the surface is completely scanned within the operating distance (top and tail will need separate scans and meshes created and quilting, or using meshing tools to seal the openings).

Interesting, a jean store in New York scans people on a turntable and then calculates the best jeans for them. If the turntable was not used this process would be much more difficult for the operator and time consuming, not to mention being potentially embarrassing.

Industrial 3D Scanners here to Stay

Industrial 3D scanners are worth their weight in gold when used in the right workflow. This is because of the better software and much faster data transfer rates and techniques reducing anomalous point creation, a finer accuracy due to better hardware allowing for better software and real-time error checking of point cloud data as the scan is being conducted. The working distances are much larger and reduce challenges to operators trying to maintain scan accuracy through laser modulation techniques. Less patching of meshes with multiples scans save time at the clean-up and meshing stage. When compared with the $300 personal scanners the industrial 3D scanners produce much higher quality and accurate point cloud data.