3D Scanning Services

3D Engineering Solutions is the premiere 3D Scanning Services provider. Combining a highly experienced and degreed engineering staff and the best equipment available, we provide data and engineering output to you in a rapid and cost effective manner.

What is 3D Scanning?

3D Scanning predominantly involves touchless methods to collect physical data from an object. This can also refer to touch probe scanning done with fixed Coordinate Measuring Machines (CMM). In the latter case, scanning refers to dragging to the touch probe across a surface while continually taking data. This dragging process generates a point cloud on the order of magnitude of 10s of thousands of points. Touchless versions of 3D scanning equipment yield point clouds in the millions or 10s of millions of points.

3D Long Range Scan of the Roebling Suspension Bridge with color information

Because of 3D Scanning’s relatively high point density, it is typically superior to single point CMM probing and data collected by hand tools.
Touchless methods of 3D Scanning have the advantage of not disturbing the object being measured. This is especially helpful for flexible or delicate structures.
Fixed CMM touch probes (used in a scanning mode or single point mode) are generally more accurate than touchless methods. However, due to the physical contact, they may damage delicate or easy to scratch surfaces.

How accurate is 3D Scanning?

This is dependent upon the exact technology used. For touchless 3D Scanning, the accuracy typically starts at 0.0002” and goes to about 0.0035”. For long range laser scanning the accuracy is usually in the 0.0800” range or worse. Contact probe scanning accuracies are usually in the 0.0001” to 0.0003” range.

When assessing quotes, be sure to understand the measurement uncertainty of the equipment that is being proposed. This is different from the equipment’s accuracy and includes factors that the manufacturer’s accuracy does not include. Note that both accuracy (and by extension measurement uncertainty which is based off of the accuracy) is always listed at +/- 2 sigma. You will want a TUR (test uncertainty ratio – the tolerance you are looking for divided by the measurement uncertainty) of ideally 10:1. Many will accept a TUR down to 4:1. This basically means that the equipment being used is 4 times better than the tolerance you are looking for (4:1).

Because of the extremely tight tolerances found in products today and limits in the state of the art technology, we have even seen TURs of close to 1:1 being acceptable!

Please contact us with your project’s specific requirements and we will be able to show you what is possible!

How much does it cost?

The answer to this lies in the scope of the work involved. We quote work by having one of our degreed engineers estimate that time to complete the particular scope of the project and then apply internal rates. The more detail about what you are looking for will allow us to define the scope more precisely and give you the best value / lowest cost quote. Most of our quoting is accomplished through seeing digital images of the object. From those images and our large experience base, we can estimate scanning times and times for other engineering services such as inspection, first article inspection (FAI) or Reverse Engineering.

We have quoted scanning work for as low as $20 per part and more than $100,000 per project. Most jobs range from $500 to $7,000. The amount of post processing work done with the scan data such as dimensional extraction and modeling will affect this value.

We typically turn quotes around within a day. Please have us quote your project!

Our 3D Scanning Systems

Since no one scanning device is suitable for all applications, we are constantly adding to our toolbox as new technology and improvements become available. We employ all the major scanning technologies including: laser scanning services including both long-range laser scanning and short range laser scanning, blue light scanning, white light scanning, photogrammetry, confocal white light scanning, metrology services, scanning probes, industrial x-ray services, and industrial CT scanning.

Each of our staff are degreed engineers or/and NAS410 certified in CT scanning. All have been trained in each technology and software that we use. So each understands the trade-offs between each scanning technology. We ensure an adequate scanning capacity for your requirements by having multiple pieces of equipment for each scanning technology and a nimble and flexible staff that can properly obtain quality data.

3D Scanning File Formats

The raw output of most scanning devices is a point cloud. These are points in space defined by an XYZ location, an IJK vector direction (indicating the surface normal direction) and sometimes color information. Point clouds can be a few hundreds of points to millions of points in size. This original raw data is not useful for industrial CAD programs in general (although Autodesk products including Revit can handle these easily). These points are seen by most CAD programs as individual entities and therefore can quickly bog down even the largest computers.

There is specific inspection software that is designed to handle these large sets of data and can easily manage very large point clouds on standard engineering computers. For our largest point clouds we resort to using computers with large amounts of RAM (256 – 512 GB). This allows us to complete your very large projects in a timelier manner.

3D Scan – STL with color information

Some scanning devices will not yield a point cloud but rather convert the raw data to an STL file first. Either way if reverse engineering and not dimensional inspection is your goal, an STL will need to be created. These files consist of millions of triangles that represent the surface to a high degree of fidelity. These are also not useful for most CAD platforms as these millions of triangles are generally interpreted as individual surfaces. We employ several CAD platforms that work to differing degrees with these STL files and can advise you if yours will work well if you choose to perform the modeling portion of the project. If time is critical, we recommend using our internal CAD services for modeling. Our engineering staff is well versed in data collection and complex modeling techniques.

Once an STL is created, the next step is to create a NURBs or parametric model. NURBs are small surface patches that simulate the STL file very closely and can be used for many applications. They are not necessarily easy to modify. Note that the STL is slightly deviant from the raw point cloud data. We can control the total amount of deviation in most cases. Also when creating a model from the STL file, a controlled amount of deviation will also be present. We monitor the overall deviation in the final model by comparing it directly to the raw data as a heat color map. A parametric file is one that is native to the CAD platform that it is created in and consists of familiar elements and features that are easy to modify.

Raw point cloud data compared to CAD models – Heat Color Mapping

Once NURBs or a parametric file (or a hybrid of the two) is created, it can be exported as an IGES, STEP or parasolid file (other outputs are also available). These file types are generally considered dumb models as their base features have been replaced by one feature that represents the object.

Beyond point clouds as the starting point, CT scanning produces a Voxel data set as its raw output. These files consist of millions of tiny cubes that have a location, size and greyscale value associated with them. The greyscale value is relatable to the estimated density of that Voxel by the software. The software we use will export this data as an STL file which can then be used for inspection or reverse engineering purposes. The native data can also be used for inspection depending upon the ultimate requirements.

Both point clouds and Voxel data sets can be given to you as your project completes. We distribute a free viewer that allows you to rotate the data and do some basic analysis on your own. This is often useful for live presentations with your internal or external customers. 3D Engineering Solutions is also available to drive the datasets through a web meeting while meetings are held with your customers. This allows you to focus on the point of the meeting and allows us to expertly manipulate the viewing of the data to best show and display the needed information.

Contact us for more options of file format outputs. We are here to help you be successful!

Can a scan be directly converted to a CAD model?

This is one of the most common questions asked of us concerning our scanning services. Many assume that the scanning process is also a modeling process. Unfortunately, the state of the art technology does not allow this. There is work being done in this area to move closer in this direction. Currently, the best way to obtain a CAD model is to first convert the data to an STL file and use that as a basis for creating a model in CAD manually. You could also create primitive shapes (planes, cylinders, circles, etc) in certain software that can be brought directly into CAD as STP, IGS or parasolid files to aid this.

Our staff of engineers is well trained and experienced in translating raw scan data into fully parametric or surface models. Because this is a large part of our business, we have become very quick at doing so. Consider outsourcing this portion of your work with us to help improve your internal throughput. In most cases, we can accommodate creating the models in your specific CAD platform!

Contact 3D Engineering Solutions for all your scanning requirements.

Related Services