How to use 3D scanning for reverse engineering

Guy ButtleMarch 24, 20235 minute read

What happens when you need to replace a component but no digital model exists? What if you need to create a part that interfaces with a part with no documentation? What about repurposing a product for a new application? 

The answer in all cases is reverse engineering. In this blog, we’ll take a look at what reverse engineering involves, the advantages of 3D scanning, and the critical role of reverse engineering software. 

What is reverse engineering? 

Manufacturers have made millions of parts. Relatively few remain relevant for more than a few years. But those that do are often part of important systems and assemblies, so they are worth preserving. 

The older the system is, the less likely its original designs are available. There may have been physical documentation that has been lost or digital files that were deleted. The part may have been produced by a company that no longer exists. 

Regardless, reverse engineering allows manufacturers to recreate the part’s 3D CAD file by working backward from a physical part, bringing it back to life in digital form. 

3D scanning for reverse engineering  3D scanning is an easy way to capture a part's geometry

What are the stages of reverse engineering?  

Reverse engineering involves four steps: 

1. Scanning 

3D scanning technology is the fastest, most accurate way to capture  a component’s complete geometry. You may need to prep the part with a powder spray to eliminate reflections that can compromise scan quality. 

2. Meshing 

The scanned 3D file is called a point cloud, or a digital representation of the part’s shape. These points can be connected into triangles, known as a mesh. To prepare the mesh for conversion to a 3D CAD model, it may need to be refined; its gaps filled in, or file size altered by adding or removing triangles.  

3. Importing 

To turn a mesh into a usable CAD file, you’ll need reverse engineering software that enables import of the mesh, and for surfaces to be created based on the shape of the triangle model. Keep in mind, some of these tools only work with simple, flat surfaces. Make sure to choose software that can handle meshes of a complex shape. 

4. Extraction 

After the mesh is imported, its surfaces need to be built so they can be edited. There are three ways to do this. Semi-automatic surfacing captures most surfaces automatically, then you finish the process manually. Automatic surfacing takes care of the whole process, but gives you less flexibility to make changes to the model later. Manual surfacing enables total flexibility and adjustment by the user, but it’s also the most time-consuming method. 

At this point, you’ll have a usable 3D model that engineers can interact with, whether that means adding new features, adjusting existing features, or analyzing the model as it stands. For best results, a high-quality 3D scan is paramount. 

Application spotlight: Building bespoke cars faster with reverse engineering 

A high-end custom automotive shop has been using 3D scanning and reverse engineering to restore a broad range of vehicles or to customise cars for many years. Utah, US-based Kindig-it go from design concept all the way through CAD design and 3D printing with a FARO 3D scanner and Geomagic Design X.

Kindig-it using Geomagic Design X
Kindig-it use a 3D scanner to capture the geometry of a car

What are the benefits of using 3D scanning for reverse engineering?  

Manufacturers who want to reverse engineer a part need an accurate 3D model. 3D scanners offer the easiest way to capture the geometry of any object, and the data they deliver can be processed and edited to improve or fix broken sections of the original.   

The key advantages of using 3D scanners for reverse engineering are: 

• Complexity: 3D scanners measure millions of points on each surface, so they can handle very intricate parts. 

• Speed: 3D scanners capture data much faster than contact-based techniques. 

• Completion: 3D scanning provides a comprehensive picture of the part, so you can capture elements of the part that have worn down, failed, or otherwise deviated from their original design. 

• Convenience: 3D scanners are easy to transport, so they can be used anywhere. 

The importance of reverse engineering software  

Of course, a 3D scan by itself doesn’t enable reverse engineering. The scan has to be transformed into a CAD model using reverse engineering software. 

Ideally, the software you choose should be able to quickly process large data sets, create complex hybrid 3D models, and connect directly with your CAD environment. 

Getting your reverse engineering project off the ground 

Now that you know how 3D scanners aid reverse engineering, the next step is to choose the software for your projects.  

The right tools are those that make it easy to use the data to rebuild, optimise and recreate parts. We’ve put together a one-stop guide to Oqton's reverse engineering suite, so that you choose the one that suits your needs best. Check it out and, if you have additional questions, get in touch with us.  

3D scanning CTA


      Subscribe to our newsletter

      Get our best content straight in your inbox

        Manage your email preferences

        Related Tags & Featured Products

        3D ScanningBlogReverse Engineering