16 R&DMagazine August 2014
Scanning Products into 3-D
3-D scanning technology reduces costs and speeds up product development with
new technology advancements.
3-Dscanners analyze real-world objects or environments to collect data on their shape and appearance. The collected data can then be used to construct digital 3-D models that can aid in product development.
3-D scanners share several traits with cameras. Like cameras, they have
a cone-like field of view, and can only collect information about surfaces
that aren’t obscured. While a camera collects color information about surfaces within its field of view, a 3-D scanner collects distance information
about surfaces within its field of view. The “picture” produced by a 3-D
scanner describes the distance to a surface at each point in the picture.
This allows the 3-D position of each point in the picture to be identified.
The global 3-D scanning market is estimated to grow from $2.06
billion in 2013 to $4.08 billion by 2018, at a CAGR of 14.6% from 2013
to 2018, according to a MarketsandMarkets report. Recent trends in the
industry show 3-D scanning as improving, with a huge demand. And 3-D
scanning with services like reverse engineering, rapid prototyping and
quality inspection, makes it suitable for most verticals. The enhanced efficiency, affordability and faster and more accurate results are some of the
advantages and offerings of this technology. Portability and ease-of-use
are also important features.
While the costs of 3-D scanning devices aren’t decreasing, companies
are offering a wider solution range at a wider price range. Manufacturers, such as LMI Technologies, Creaform, MakerBot Industries and
NextEngine, are introducing more affordable solutions to complete their
offerings and attract new customers.
LMI Technologies, Canada, has seen a growth in snapshot 3-D scan-
ning, which has driven much interest in the desktop, industrial and con-
sumer 3-D scanning markets. While 3-D scanners have traditionally been
specialized devices for embedded systems, they are becoming closer to
complete 3-D camera systems. This allows for a much greater ease-of-use
from industries, as they can get a complete 3-D scan in seconds.
While there’s always a need for larger high-precision devices, the miniaturization of cameras, controllers and processing technologies has enabled a
new generation of small scanners that can be used in a mobile or handheld
manner of scanning objects in their natural positions.
LMI Technologies’ HDI 120 3-D Scanner is the smallest advanced 3-D
scanning system on the market using blue LED projection technology.
Designed for industry applications that depend on accurate and repeatable scanning results, the HDI 120 is useful for reverse engineering, 3-D
inspection measurement and visualization. With a solid aluminum body
that is dustproof and water resistant (IP67 rated), this scanner is pre-cal-ibrated to produce repeatable 3-D scanning results while operating in
In the past, a majority of 3-D scanners used laser dot or laser line technology. As structured-light 3-D scanning technology started to emerge,
there wasn’t much user product knowledge surrounding the differences
between a laser 3-D scanner and a structured-light 3-D scanner. However, today almost half the 3-D scanners introduced are based on different
forms of structured-light technology (typically white or blue LED technology). LED light sources are now the standard lighting technology for
3-D scanning technology due to their small size, long lifetimes and low
heat emission. Prior to LED, the standard was metal-halide lamps.
In addition to a shift to LED light sources is the move from CCD imagers to new high-performance CMOS global shutter sensors. Traditionally,
CMOS sensors were only used in low-end imaging applications, “but we see
more high-performance CMOS-based imagers,” says Daniel Brown, product manager at Creaform Inc., Newark, Del. Their main advantage is that
for a significantly reduced cost, they provide high frame rates at relatively
high resolution, require much less complicated electronic drive circuits and
have lower power consumption. The 3-D scanner industry, according to
Brown, also benefits from other advances in consumer electronics such as
high-bandwidth USB3 communication channels and powerful embedded
processors. In the lower end of the 3-D scanning technology spectrum
there’s a trend towards directly using consumer electronics 3-D sensors
coupled with specific software applications. “But to meet the accuracy and
resolution needs of the industrial market, high-end 3-D scanners still need
to rely on higher-quality discrete components,” says Brown.
Another important technological enhancement is the increase in computation power. As scanners get faster and capture larger amounts of data,
there’s more information to process and the bottleneck is often the computer. “The constant evolution in computation power and optimization
algorithm means it’s possible to deliver better data generated by a given
device without changing its hardware,” says Brown.
Creaform Inc.’s HandySCAN 3D being used in a laboratory environment.