Siggraph 2011 #2: The march of 3D scanning

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The X-Scan 3D scanner from 4DCulture, compatible with Geomagic, PolyWorks, RapidForm and GSI Studio processing software

It has been about a decade and a half since 3D scanners burst onto the scene, fuelling speculation about whether we would see an end, or at least a big diminishing, to the type of blank-screen modelling provided by CAD programs.

These days we know better: 3D scanning and processing has evolved into a complementary approach to traditional CAD modeling.

Although 3D scanning and processing, or reverse engineering if you like, has not exploded like its early proponents might have hoped, it has progressed steadily, even within years of almost negligible CAD growth.

Recent years have not brought any revolutions, but there has been an orderly march forward indicative of a mature market – lower hardware costs or greater capabilities at the same cost, more entrants in the field, better portability, and greater ease of use.

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The HDI Advance R2 3D scanner from 3D3 Solutions, priced at $17,000 bundled with Geomagic Wrap software

Different scans for different folks

Most attendees at Siggraph 2011 have a different take than mechanical engineers on the objects they want to scan – it’s much more likely to be a human head than a head gasket.

Some approaches on display – such as digital cameras that take multiple pictures simultaneously then rely on software to stitch them into a 3D image – don’t capture geometry, so aren’t applicable for CAD applications, except for perhaps manufacturing or ergonomic simulations involving human models. But others on display at Siggraph 2011 are suitable for CAD applications.

In addition to established players such as ZCorporation, two relatively recent companies – 4DCulture and 3D3 Solutions – had products on display at Siggraph 2011.

Two new entries

The X-Scan model that 4DCulture displayed at Siggraph is portable, about the size of a large stereo receiver and weighing 5 Kg.

It measures approximately 1.23-million points per scan with point spacing between 0.17 and 0.23 mm. It is compatible with popular geometry processing software such as Geomagic, PolyWorks, RapidForm and GSI Studio. I was given a price of $20,000, although I would check that, since the person staffing the booth didn’t have strong English-language skills.

3D3 Solutions offers three portable white-light scanners teamed with the company’s FlexScan3D software. There is also the option of bundling the systems with Geomagic Wrap, which converts point-cloud data into polygon models.

Average points per scan range from 0.9 million to 1.7 million, with point-to-point distance from 0.16 to 0.35 mm.

Prices start at $5,000 for the HDI Lite kit without Geomagic Wrap to $17,000 for the HDI Advance R2 with Wrap.

Out from the back room

We’re still nowhere near the 3D scanning equivalent of a chicken in every industrial pot, but progress is encouraging, and this technology has proven its mettle in migrating from the labs to pivotal roles in design studios and shop floors around the world.

Bob Cramblitt reports on CAD/CAM/CAE technologies that impact product development. He’s been attending and reporting on Siggraph since 1983.