by: Murtaza M Khalil
Reverse engineering is the traditional process of disassembling working machinery or system to understand and replicate more efficiently. Modern reverse engineering deals more with creating precise, accurate, and editable 3D models of the existing components to inspect and further optimize their process.

Traditionally, engineers used to dismantle products and replicate the assembly on CAD software. The traditional process, however, has been replaced by 3D scanning, which allows users to directly transfer the shape and physical attributes of a product to a computer. The unmatched precision and accuracy, along with its multiple other benefits, make 3D scanning technology the best choice for this process.

In this blog, we’ll go through the basics of reverse engineering and take a look at the process of creating digital designs directly from a physical part.

Applications of reverse engineering in the industry

Reverse engineering is crucial for multiple industries. Manufacturing, R&D, automotive, aerospace, and other industrial functions use reverse engineering due to its convenient process and flexible applications. Advancements in technologies like 3D scanning and 3D printing have further simplified reverse engineering and made it popular across many industries.

A common misconception about the reverse engineering process is that it is solely used for research and educational purposes. Reverse engineering has indeed been used in this sector for a long time, but there are several other areas where reverse engineering plays an important role. Let’s take a look at some of the most common applications of reverse engineering.

Research and Development

R&D is perhaps the most well-known application of the reverse engineering process. In this case, the main objective is to understand the workings of an existing setup to create a better alternative. The use of reverse engineering depends on the applications as well. For example, the health sector uses reverse engineering process to make prosthetics, replacement organs, and other bio-engineering applications. Similarly, other key industries like electronics and manufacturing also use the reverse engineering process for R&D purposes.  

Product design and optimization

Another common application of reverse engineering is in the design department. A lot of times, designers use an existing setup as a base and build on it to make a new and improved version of a product.

Maintenance of legacy equipment

Manufacturing assembly lines and the machinery on the production floor require a significant capital investment, which means that they stay in operation for many years. Even automated plants use multiple legacy devices connected through an integration system to save initial costs. Some businesses with a lower production demand prefer to use legacy equipment to cut costs while maintaining their required productivity.

Legacy devices come with their own set of maintenance issues. Older designs are more prone to getting damaged and need replacements, that may not always be available. In many instances, original manufacturers discontinue older machines after some time and stop producing their parts as well. Ordering a custom-built part is quite expensive and is not feasible for many businesses. With reverse engineering, you can make the required part in your in-house facility without bearing any additional costs.

Importance of precision and data quality for reverse engineering

As the purpose of reverse engineering is to recreate and study the product, it is imperative to ensure that each measurement and dimension you take is as precise as possible. With 3D scanning technology, creating the most precise and accurate models becomes easier than ever.

Want to learn more about 3D scanning and its effect in multiple industries? Click here.

You have the option of choosing between a stationary scanner or a handheld device. Mounted 3D scanners are more accurate but do not have that much flexibility. Handheld 3D scanners, although flexible, need multiple scans to reach the same level of accuracy as mounted scanners. Nevertheless, 3D scanning technology has significantly reduced the overall timing required to complete a 3D reverse engineering CAD model.

3D scanning and reverse engineering: Solids and Meshes

One of the toughest challenges engineers face in the 3D reverse engineering process is creating a solid CAD model that can be modified and converted for further processes like CAM or 3D printing.

3D scanning is a multi-stage process where the scanner translates acquired data in the form of a mesh model. Meshes are a crucial part of FEM studies and consist of very small polygons that contain information about the physical shape of a specific product. Most CAD tools, however, deal with solid models that are editable and convertible to other formats.

The 3D reverse engineering process transforms a mesh model into a workable solid model. Common 3D CAD tools like Solidworks have internal modules that automatically convert mesh models into solid 3D models. Moreover, there are other add-ons available in the market that make the conversion even more convenient and quicker for users. For example, Geomagic for Solidworks is among some top-notch CAD scanning add-ons which can convert a mesh file coming from a 3D scanner to a proper solid CAD model in a matter of minutes.

The 3D reverse engineering process

As discussed before, the 3D reverse engineering process is a little different from traditional reverse engineering. A 3D reverse engineering workflow ends at the creating of a solid CAD file, which is ready for further processes like simulations, analyses, 3D printing, and other Additive Manufacturing processes.

You can divide the 3D reverse engineering process into four distinct phases. They are:

1 – Prepare the product for a 3D scan and initiate the scan

The first stage of a 3D scanning process is data acquisition through a scanner. Since 3D scanners use a combination of lasers to determine data points, they don’t fare well with transparent and reflective surfaces. If the product you are scanning has such surfaces, it is recommended to cover it with a temporary matte coating. Doing that can improve the accuracy of your results and make sure nothing gets reflected from the surface.

The next step is to start the actual scanning process using a state-of-the-art 3D scanner device. These devices usually require you to use multiple scans to maintain accuracy to the nearest micrometer.

2 – Refine your scan and the obtained mesh file

Building on the last step, refining a scan requires you to conduct multiple scans of the same object to register every single detail of the process. Initially, the mesh scan creates large data points that only register the general outlook of the shape. After that, subsequent scans register the smaller details of your product, giving you the best scan with a more accurate mesh size.

3 – Convert the mesh file to CAD

Once you have a refined mesh profile, the next step will be to create a CAD model from it. The process is not too complicated as there are multiple intuitive software tools available in the market. However, you’ll need to clarify some input parameters and use your CAD skills to extract important surfaces from the scan if you are working with complicated models.

4 – Post-processing

Once you are done with the scan and have obtained the CAD model, your 3D reverse engineering process is completed. Now the digital design is ready for you to run simulations, design optimizations, and other important processes depending on the specific application you are targeting.

How can we help?

Tangent Solutions has a result-oriented team working on providing the best 3D scanning services for all your reverse engineering applications. The organization has been in the field for about 15 years and has the experience and testimonials to back its claim of always ensuring excellence when it comes to meeting your demands through exemplary services.

Tangent Solutions possesses a state-of-the-art 3D scanning setup with multiple portable and blue light scanners that allows both on-site and on-premise 3D scans. We also have a team of dedicated and experienced CAD engineers that are skilled enough to meet your versatile needs and offer unmatched designing, rendering, and product development services for your reverse engineering projects with a same-day delivery guarantee.

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