The global 3D scanning market size was valued at $4.5 billion in 2018, and was predicted to grow at a CAGR of 8.4% from 2019 to 2025, according to a study by Grand View Research. Behind this growth, we can deduce that the adoption rate has been on the rise. A growing number of companies have grasped the benefits of investing in 3D scanning technologies; whether to enhance product development and design, for quality control, reverse engineering and prototyping applications, to personalise devices like orthotics and prosthetics, or even for virtual reality applications. Historically, quality control and inspection has accounted for the largest market share, however the reverse engineering segment is expected to register significant growth in the next few years. Indeed, when manufacturers discontinue their production of certain parts, it is important to reverse engineer parts and components to supply replacements. Despite benefits, it is important to understand whether 3D scanners answer the needs of your company or not. Additionally, 3D scanners are wide-ranging; affordable to very expensive devices are available on the market and offer quite different capabilities. In the following piece, we ask 3 experts to give us their insights on the adoption of 3D scanners in a company. So, how can you integrate 3D scanning technology in your company?
Jeff Wang is the founder of ScanTech, a company that has developed 3D digital technology since 2011 and launched the first generation of handheld laser scanners in 2014. With 10 years of experience in 3D scanning and metrology grade measurement equipment, they have provided professional digital 3D solutions for 3,000 customers in the industry. Our second expert is Monika Gaztañaga, who has been an application engineer at Metrología Sariki for 4 years; she is mainly dedicated to the world of point clouds, where she works with Solutionix structured light equipment, and Mitutoyo laser scanners. Finally, José Molinero belongs to CAF Digital Manufacturing as head of strategy and development. He has more than 10 years of experience with equipment, from long-range scanners used in civil engineering to short-range scanners used in detail engineering, especially structured light scanners.
When does it make sense for a company to adopt 3D scanning?
Industries must think ahead, to build better products in the shortest time possible. For a new product, a large part of the process starts with design, such as sketches and mock-ups, which will then take shape in a CAD model to build the first prototype. This is where 3D scanning technology can come into play. Today, there are many advantages offered by metrology solutions. Among them are speed, versatility, customisation, quality and precision, as well as the convenience of three-dimensional replication, to reverse engineer, model cultural artefacts, etc. Aerospace, automotive, dental and medical industries have all benefited from these features. However, it is important to ask when a company should think about integrating 3D scanning into its business, as it is not always the best idea.
The main thing is to think about the application for the company, and our experts give us their advice to do so. Jeff Wang comments: “It is recommended that companies buy 3D scanners from the design stage to provide technical support throughout the product life cycle.” Molinero adds: “I believe that a scanner should be adopted when it will benefit the whole production process, whether it is for quality improvement or time improvement. I think it would be logical initially to outsource this process and, depending on the use, see its economic viability“. Monica Gaztañaga comments: “3D scanners give us another perspective, a global vision of the parts to be analysed and much more information than could be obtained up to now with conventional methods such as a three-dimensional machine“.
What should be considered before investing in a 3D scanner?
3D scanners can play an important role in product development and design, quality control, batch proofing and intelligent manufacturing. Once you are clear about the role that the technology will play and the type of application it will be used for, there are a number of key points to consider before investing in a device of this level. Jeff Wang highlights four important ones, which are stability, efficiency and speed, scanning accuracy and finally portability and ROI. On this last point, he comments: “Why have handheld 3D scanners developed so rapidly in recent years? Their portability and cost effectiveness. This has greatly expanded the application of 3D scanning, covering almost all walks of life, and is no longer limited to mechanical precision inspection. 3D digital models are very important front-end data requirements.“
On the other hand, Monika Gaztañaga focuses on the third point, scanning accuracy, and recommends: “When incorporating a 3D scanner into our process it is important to know the level of detail we need to obtain in the final result. The choice of the most suitable scanner for each case will depend largely on this“. It reflects the realistic digital restoration of the part. Compared with inspection, the design process has a higher demand in detail capturing. José Molinero adds: “When choosing the equipment it is essential to take into account the size of the piece, the type of material, the level of detail required and the measuring times needed. This allows us to delimit quite well between technologies“.
Considering the two main technologies are Structured Light and Laser, what are the main differences?
Laser triangulation works by projecting a point or laser line onto an object, and then capturing its reflection with sensors. This method is called triangulation because the laser point (or line), the sensor, and the laser emitter form a triangle. On the other hand, structured light also uses trigonometric triangulation, which works by projecting a pattern of light onto the object. With these concepts in mind, let’s find out what the experts think about which method to use in each case.
In recent years, both solutions have been continuously improved, so that the applications of 3D scanning are becoming more and more extensive. ScanTech’s CEO comments: “In recent years, both solutions have been continuously improved. For example, ScanTech’s PRINCE 3D scanner, which launched in 2016 took the lead in the industry to use blue laser as the light source, which greatly improved the detail capturing of laser scanning; GOM GmbH launched structured light scanner ATOS 5X, featuring an automatic scanning sensor that can scan black and shiny objects. Therefore, the applications of laser 3D scanning and structured light are becoming more and more extensive.”
According to José Molinero: “Laser triangulation has certain advantages, in the case of requiring precision and speed of measurement, it can reach values much better than structured light. In addition, it tends to create less noise in parts with refraction or reflection. In the case of structured light, we have the advantage of being able to cover a larger working area, which facilitates measurement in the case of large objects“. Monika Gaztañaga points out: “Laser triangulation scanners are normally more accurate than those with structured light, although the capture is usually longer and more complex. It is common to use structured light on large pieces and lasers on pieces with tighter tolerances, but this must be evaluated in each case“.
What are the most common errors when 3D scanning?
It is clear that when investing in a new technology, knowing the most common errors can prevent users from making them in the future. One way of avoid these issues is to have knowledge of metrology, which facilitates the filtering process, as well as the extraction of elements from the point cloud once it has been filtered and meshed. Gaztañaga believes that the precision of the scanners and the material of the part could be one of the most common limitations. In fact, she comments: “Nowadays, in most cases, the precision provided by a contact system is somewhat greater than that offered by a scanner. The material-gloss of the part is another limitation that we may encounter, as in some cases we will need external help to nuance the surface and achieve a quality cloud“.
For his part, the José Molinero stresses that the two typical errors are usually the measurement time and the cost involved in a 3D scan, and comments: “Users who are not familiar with this technology think that by scanning a 3D object this geometry can be easily modified. This reverse engineering process is not an immediate process and requires a certain amount of expertise to obtain a quality scan“. Wang says that many users consider the result of the 3D data obtained by scanning to be equivalent to the file of the original 3D digital model. He also points out: “The scanned mesh or point cloud data file is different from the original 3D digital model. Users should obtain professional training to convert the mesh data file into a 3D digital model file“.
Once all the above points are clear, it is time to launch into the world of metrology and trust in the benefits it brings. This is why our 3 experts wanted to give a final recommendation for integrating 3D scanning technology.
Jeff Wang: “Understanding and using 3D scanning technology early on will bring great value and benefits. It’s a really great thing to love and enjoy 3D scanning technology“.
Monika Gaztañaga: “I encourage you to take an interest in this type of technology, the benefits it brings are many and it is a good way to complement what you already have“.
José Molinero: “My advice is that when in doubt you should put yourself in the hands of experts who will evaluate the viability of acquiring this equipment, its punctual service or not acquiring it“.
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