3D scanning is the no-touch, non-destructive process of capturing a 3D image of an object. 3D scanning services uses laser technology to capture point clouds of data from an object. These point clouds are gathered on a computer where a 3D digital image or representation of the physical object can be displayed and studied.
You’re probably already familiar with 3D scanning services in the medical field when used with computerized tomography (CT), also known as computerized axial tomography (CAT), scans. In CT or CAT scanning, X-ray images are taken of the structures inside a human’s or animal’s body. These images are then converted into pictures on a monitor where they are converted into 2D images of a portion or slice of the 3D object. This generated 2D slices from a 3D object is called tomography.
Clinical CT scanning has been in use since 1974, but it wasn’t until around 1980 that CT scanning services became widely available. Today, there are around 30,000 CT scanners installed worldwide. 6,000 CT scanners are installed in the U.S. alone.
3D scanning isn’t only for the medical field, however. Today, industrial CT scanning is becoming widely popular among engineers and other technicians.
What is 3D scanning used for?
From a medical professional looking at X-rays or a mechanical engineer trying using reverse engineering to study a model, 3D scanning services are widely utilized across almost all of today’s industries.
3D scanning services can be used to study product designs and create replicas. Reverse engineering services, or the process of examining the composition and construction of another manufacturer’s product with the goal of reproducing it, is one of the most common uses of industrial 3D scanning services. Other uses include nondestructive, or NDT testing.
3D scanning services have the major benefit of requiring no-contact with the object being scanned. What this means for engineers is they can now study the interior and exterior of an object without needing to take it apart. Thanks to the use of X-ray technology, it’s possible to evaluate the properties of an object, component, material, or system without causing any damage to the object itself. This enables manufacturers to cut their product inspection and failure analysis costs by 25% to 75% as compared to other existing technology.
How is 3D scanning technology changing?
CT technology is rapidly improving. The first CT scanners invented in 1972 by British engineer Godfrey Hounsfield of EMI Laboratories, England and by South African-born physicist Allan Cormack of Tufts University, Massachusetts took several hours to acquire the data necessary to produce a single slice of an object. It took days to reconstruct this image from its raw data. Today, multi-slice CT systems are able to acquire four slices of data in 350 milliseconds. It takes less than a second to reconstruct a 512 x 512-matrix image gathered from millions of data points.
This is a vast improvement over what was possible with 3D scanning services just a few years ago. A few single CT slices used to take hours to create. Today, 3D models with billions of voxels are produced in seconds. It’s this incredible efficiency that has opened the door to more industrial scanning uses such as reverse engineering and rapid prototyping.
Image resolution is also a rapidly advancing field. There are 3D scanning services called micro-CT scanners which produce images with 100 times better resolution than even the best CAT scan used in the medical field.
Are there size limitations in 3D scanning?
Technically, yes, there are size limitations to what can be scanned with 3D scanning services. But these limitations are very broad. Parts as small as .5 millimeters in length or as large as 660 millimeters in diameter by one millimeter in length can be digitally captured with 3D scanning services.
Remember those micron-CT scanners mentioned above? The reason they’re measured in microns is because the focal spot itself is only a few microns in size. A micron, for those who aren’t familiar, is .000039 inches or .001 millimeters.
As you can see, 3D scanning services are incredible in both the breadth of their uses and the precision of their capabilities. From doctors to engineers and everyone in between, 3D scanners are used almost everywhere.