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Federici also sees increased interest in and use of scanning in reverse engineering. "It's definitely exploding. People are using scanning more and more, for a couple of reasons," she said. "It's kind of brought back good old-fashioned model making, like bike helmets and ski goggles, and; a lot of that stuff is still hand-made. You can make a hand-made master and then you can scan it and reverse engineer it." This is because designers can make a clay model faster than making a digital model first.

The other reason she sees why scanning is growing is the increase in the tech savvy workforce. "Everybody coming out of college these days is worlds beyond where people were fifteen years ago," she said. "They understand computers, and they can already think in 3D … that's just changed the industry.

Tom Charron is vice president of marketing and product management at Rapidform, a 3D scanning software vendor. He has seen much of the increase in interest focused on mid-range level scanners. "This is new, and it's largely fueled by the FARO Focus scanner," he said. "That's a mid-range scanner, they scan out to 50 to maybe 200 or 300 feet. And we're seeing a lot of people buy those systems to scan buildings, large vehicles, aircraft and boats and military vehicles."

You can have all the scanners you want but you also need software to process that information. On the processing software side, Charron said there is a push to make models from the scans solid models instead of just surface models. With surface models they are, "dumb geometry, and you can't really do much with them. So that's why there is this big push towards making solid models that are actually based in features, where every feature is a unique element," Charron said. "When you open it in Inventor or SolidWorks or Creo or any of those, it's a native file that behaves just like you had designed it from scratch." Rapidform recently released the newest version of their software Rapidform XOR, and it improves upon that Charron said.

Rapidform
Rapidform XOR.


The 'holy grail' that all three industry experts mentioned is the point where you can go directly from a scan to a full parametric CAD model, or a one- button solution so to speak. And while the technology continues to get better, this level of ease will probably never be a reality.

"Software just can't read our brains. It will tell you that this looks like a place, this looks like a cylinder, it's telling you what it looks like, but you still have to tell it 'yep, that is what it is,' because sometimes the software gets it wrong," Kersen said.

Charron has similar feelings. "I don't know that we'll ever get to the holy grail of one button. There are just some things humans can do that computers cannot do, and this might fall under that category," he said. "From us, what you'll see are new releases that add to the automation each time and eventually we'll get pretty close to automating all of it."

It also depends on the particular CAD software you are using whether or not you need an “'in-between software”' to get that data into CAD, Federici said. "If you're going to use something like Pro-E or SolidWorks then the answer is yes, but if you're using Unigraphics or Alias, then no," she said. "It totally depends."
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Published 2012-05-14 00:00:00