The Practical Aspects of Reverse Engineering

Reverse engineering is a process in which parts are carefully measured and tolerances are developed

prior to generating CAD drawings or models. The most common application for reverse engineering is the reproduction, or modification, of an existing part for which there is no formal drawing.

Today’s CAD programs have made reverse engineering technology a practical tool for creating a three-dimensional virtual model of an existing physical part. That, in turn, has made the use of 3-D CAD, computer-aided manufacturing, or other computer-aided engineering applications easier.Reverse engineering

By using hardware and software that work together, reverse engineering makes the generation of missing parts or revised designs fast and easy.  Hardware, such as 3D scanners is used to measure an object, then software reconstructs the point cloud generated by the scanner as a 3-D model.

One reason design engineers are increasingly relying on reverse engineering is that hardware and software have become more affordable, and outsource services more reliable, both of which help engineering companies speed up development and cut production costs.  Additionally, the software can be tightly integrated with their CAD, PLM and PDM programs, enabling seamless use.   At the same time, the costs of scanners and other hardware used to input measurements have been dropping, and the hardware is becoming smaller and easier to use, according to the hardware makers.

CAD / CAM services have reverse engineered many products for its customers. With access to multiple scanning methods to capture part geometry, we’re able to ensure the highest accuracy reproduction.  Normally, our experts use SolidWorks to process the scanned point clouds, converting the data into a surface model.  Our customers can then import the surface model directly imported into their CAM program, or we can convert it into a solid model for them to work within their CAD applications.

When the part is created via a CAM system, it looks like the originally scanned piece, albeit with appropriate improvements.  This ability to quickly generate same, but improved, parts have given rise to manufacturers’ ability to find new uses for CAD-integrated reverse-engineering software tools. One use is to determine why a part wears out too quickly or doesn’t perform to maximum specifications

By scanning the part into the CAD system, engineers can compare the measurements taken from the actual part of the original, as-designed part. This helps determine exactly how and where the part has degraded. With that information in hand, engineers can redesign the part to avoid future loss in capability.

3D Scanning, CAD, and Reverse Engineering

Today, reverse engineering is still a complex job requiring an understanding of the way the part or product was designed, constructed and used.  Fortunately, today’s technologies have made this complex job a bit easier.

CAD, and specifically 3D CAD, coupled with 3D scanning technology, makes it possible to create virtual models of nearly anything.  The reverse engineering process begins by scanning the original physical object by using any one of many 3D scanning technologies like CMMs, laser scanners, structured light digitizers, or Industrial CT Scanning (computed tomography). This scanned data contains measurements of all surfaces of the original object, usually represented as a point cloud.  However, the point cloud data lacks geometric properties.  Therefore, the point cloud data needs to be processed and modeled into a more usable format, such as a triangular-faced mesh, a set of NURBS surfaces, or a CAD model.    A CAD virtual model can be used in 3D CAD, CAM, CAE or other software to manufacturing a new part or product that is exactly like the original; or the virtual model can be used to augment, improve or modernize the design for better fit and better performance.

Handheld Scanners

The wider accessibility of handheld laser scanners and portable CMMs means more companies can afford reverse engineering for their own unique projects. Handheld scanners digitize 3-D surfaces in real time and input that information directly into CAD systems, further speeding the reverse engineering process.

However, not everyone wants to own and operate their own scanning equipment.  That’s why many manufacturing companies rely on upon outsourcing reverse engineering services to provide the information they need to manufacture a part.  Manufacturing companies maintain focus on their core competency, i.e., manufacturing,  by relying on companies like CAD / CAM Services to provide the reverse engineering service that they need.


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