With all the buzz about 3D printing lately, there has also been a rise in interest in 3D scanners and 3D scanning.  The connection between 3D printing and 3D scanning is somewhat obvious, as the printer needs something to print.  For the typical CAD engineer, this is a no brainer, but for the average person without a 3D design software, the challenge to create content is a greater hurdle to over come.

Enter the 3D scanner.  There are many different types of scanners from a variety of manufacturers.  Home use or hobbyist machines are available for a few hundred dollars, and may even utilize technology that you already possess, such as a  iPhone, or a Microsoft Kinect.  However these solutions are quite rudimentary, and may not provide the detail or dimensional accuracy required for more advanced applications like reverse engineering or computer aided inspection.

The uninitiated, however, are usually unaware of the post processing that is required to generate a usable file for 3D printing, or other applications.   The degree of post processing required depends directly upon the final application.  Most scanners output either a point cloud or tessellated mesh in the form of an STL file.

For most applications, a point cloud is fairly useless.  Point cloud processing requires specialized software such as Geomagic in order convert the point cloud to a mesh.  The mesh can then be further processed to create the “watertight” STL file required for 3D printing.

Depending upon the condition of the part scanned, the initial data set, or the requirement to import the final model into CAD, additional post processing may be required.  Geomagic Design X is armed with a suite of tools that allow the user to develop Surface, Solid or Hybrid CAD models from the initial mesh.   The type of model developed is generally a function of the type of part.  A mechanical component will more likely be modeled as a parametric or feature based model, where as artistic or organic components lend themselves to rapid surfacing  or autosurfacing techniques.    Some items may contain both types of geometry and therefore require a hybrid approach which utilizes both feature based and rapid surface modeling techniques.

In conclusion, it is wise to have a good understanding of your technical requirements and desired outcome before making the investment to purchase a 3D scanner or 3D scanning services.  Understanding what you need will help ensure that you ultimately get what you want from the process.