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The smart reason to “copy” an existing object with a 3D scanner

The smart reason to “copy” an existing object with a 3D scanner

We often hear: “now that people have 3D scanners, aren’t you afraid they will start copying everything?” First, 3D scanners are not an enabler here; it was possible to copy existing objects long before the venue of this technology; if anything, it only took longer.

There are however cases where you need to work with existing parts, components or assemblies where having a virtual image of your component will save you a lot of time. Think of people modifying existing equipment and changing or improving its use.

Take the example of Ben from EMI Conception, a company specialized in the manufacture of high-end digging equipment for excavators from 1 to 30 tons. They also do all sorts of mechanical projects. Before getting their peel 3d scanner, they would use traditional measuring (a mix of tape measure and caliper) to model different existing components. Things could get creative with the use of cardboard templates and what not but in the end, and with a few iterations, it always worked. Adding 3D scanning into the project was a way for them to get things right the first time with a high level of confidence.

Ben recently reached out to us about a project involving a metal casting for a component used in airplanes. These castings used to be available as bare and would get machined to their final tolerances to reach certain higher tolerances required by the industry and be used as part of the plane cockpit. Unfortunately, in our specific case, the component was discontinued and no longer available; there is also no drawing or existing CAD file for the component either… Luckily, the owner still had a bare casting.


As you can see from the picture, the component has a very organic shape with very few aligned surfaces making it particularly difficult to model using traditional methods. To use Ben’s words, this is where a 3D scanner comes in handy! He started by 3D scanning the raw component, to keep it as a virtual archive, should they ever need to produce additional castings.

The part was then machined to tolerance and scanned again, this time to create a 3D solid in CAD to create drawings of the components, used for machining of future components. This is how the same 3D scanner was used twice on the same part but for 2 completely different uses; now that’s smart!

This is how making a simply copy becomes innovative and takes engineering further. Of course, a scanner good enough to be used on mechanical components could do just as good in a museum to archive artifacts or to capture the shape of a residual limb in a medical clinic.

Going back to Benoit’s project, he also sent me a scan he did of a dirt bike; the scan took about a minute and provides a lot of highly valuable information that would otherwise be very difficult to get. This looks promising for his next project. 😊

Do you have an interesting story or project to share? Contact us, who knows, it might end up on this blog as well!

Why should you pay more for a professional 3D scanner?

Why should you pay more for a professional 3D scanner?

You made up your mind and decided that 3D scanning was what you needed for your application. That’s a good start! It’s now time to choose which solution is most adapted to your needs. Shopping around, you may be tempted to consider more affordable 3D scanners. A lot of users online are promoting that there are some “very good” scanners available for $500-$600. Why would you even consider equipment that is 10x the price? Here are a few things to keep in mind when selecting a 3D scanning solution.

It’s all about the details!

Although Kinect-like 3D scanners usually have impressive capabilities when it comes to capturing data, they are rather limited when it comes to resolution (the amount of detail they will capture). Scanned objects and surfaces will often look quite smoothed out with round edges:

Transmission casing scanned with peel 3dTransmission casing scanned with  Skanect

Figure 1: Transmission casing scanned with peel 3d (top) and with Skanect (bottom)
More resolution means a crispier, more realistic scan where smaller features will be more precisely defined and more usable.


Is it accurate?

Even if a 3D scan looks nice, one should also consider how close it is to the actual model. The quality of the internal components, combined with software calibration, will have dramatic impact on the accuracy you can reach. Important errors are more than common on a low-cost scanner as can be seen in the below chart:
Accuracy comparison between peel 3d and Skanect
Chart 1: Accuracy comparison between peel 3d and Skanect
In this test, we scanned a controlled artifact 5 times with each 3D scanner, extracted the reference distance (point-to-point distance between two spheres), and compared it to the controlled measurement. As can be seen above, a Skanect 3D scanner resulted in an average error of 10.7 mm, while peel 3d provided an average error of 0.115 mm. The standard deviation is also significantly smaller with the peel 3d scanner.
This basically means that even if a shape is recognizable when scanned with a Skanect, it can be way off when if comes to how close it is to the actual object. In other words, if you are trying to design something based on your scan, chances are it will not fit (or be very loose).

Like aiming with a loose cannon!

There is also the notion of how repeatable an error is. Some measurement devices will not necessarily be accurate but at least afford good repeatability. For instance, think of a system that would provide an incorrect scale factor in a very consistent manner. All measures would be off—but always by the same amount (more or less). It’s not great but at least it can be compensated in some way…
Unfortunately, this is not the case of low-end scanners, especially when it comes to complex shapes, as can be seen below. The error is randomly spread over the scanned model in an inconsistent pattern:

Measurement error on 3 scan sessions made with a Skanect scannerMeasurement error on 3 scan sessions made with a Skanect scannerMeasurement error on 3 scan sessions made with a Skanect scanner

Figure 2: Measurement error on 3 scan sessions made with a Skanect scanner (warmer colours = positive errors, cooler colours = negative errors)

In this test, we compared the scan results made with a Skanect on a controlled mannequin head. As can be seen, despite following consistent measurement technique, the errors were significant and random, sometimes exceeding and sometimes short of the reference shape by several mm.

This basically means that your different scans will have significant measurement differences from one scan to another—even if you scan the same object, with the same technique and in the same environment! The results you get will basically be random within an important range.

Things you can do with your data…

Using a 3D scanner also usually involves at least a few post-treatment steps. For instance, you will likely need to remove surrounding surfaces (to isolate your object). Moreover, you will likely need to fill areas you couldn’t scan, re-align and perform your scan again, etc. The tools included in very affordable 3D scanners are usually quite limited, rudimentary and rather unstable.

Data finalization is essentially to 3D scanning what putting is to golf; it’s half the game and you can’t really neglect one vs the other. This means that if you plan to use your low-cost 3D scanning data, chances are you will need to invest in additional software (i.e. add significant cost to your solution).

Almighty targets!

Finally, trying to scan something flat or smooth (a car door for instance) will certainly be very challenging with low-cost scanners as they generally only rely on geometry for positioning; these items barely provide any geometry information to grab onto. This means you might wind up with very poor-quality (even unusable) results.

Stick-on markers will on the other hand ensure the accuracy of your 3D scanner and let you accurately scan the flat or smooth surface, making it fully usable in your application!

In the end…

Low-cost 3D scanners are not bad at all: they are actually a nice place to start with and get familiar with 3D scanning. If you are a hobbyist and interested in starting 3D scanning for fun, this could be a good place to start with. Affordable scanners may even be suitable for your specific application. However, if you are working in a professional environment, on commercial applications, a professional and comprehensive 3D scanning solution is best.

How to add an LCD screen to your peel 3d scanner

How to add an LCD screen to your peel 3d scanner

3D scanning applications are vast and so a user could be interested in scanning about any existing object. Whether you are scanning for reverse engineering or simply for the purpose of 3D archiving, it might not always be easy to keep your eyes on a laptop screen when scanning to see what you are doing. If you are working on a larger object or setup, you might have to move around as you scan. There is always a way to watch your laptop (for instance, you can move your laptop and play with the screen angle as you walk around your subject) but if you are amongst the people who prefer keeping their eyes on their scanner, did you know you can turn your phone into a remote display?

Using a simple app called Splashtop, you can replicate the image shown on your computer onto your phone via wireless network. With the app, you can hold your scanner in one hand, your phone in the other and scan like never before! The app can even make use of your phone tactile screen, so you can use click the software buttons using your fingers. While this feature would not be ideal to perform a full post-treatment process on your scan, it is great to perform simple tasks, such as starting/stopping a scan, without having to go back to your computer!

But wait, there’s more! Perhaps you would even prefer to keep your second hand free (to hold your coffee mug, for example). Turns out there is a solution to do this as well. You can purchase a curved mount directly from GoPro web store:

GoPro stick on mounts as purchased from their website

You can then combine the adhesive mount with the following material (purchased online from Amazon) to get an adjustable, removable screen holder:

When assembled, this is what it looks like:

Here is the result, when being used:

And there you have it: a fully interactive, adjustable and wireless remote display on your peel 3d scanner for under $50. It works like a charm and is dirt cheap! Enjoy!