3D Scanning Reverse Engineering Services

Traditionally, the process of reverse engineering involves a lot of disassembly work. Engineers used good, old-fashioned tools in order to break down mechanical components to understand how it works.

Today, 3D scanning for reverse engineering can deliver precise, accurate, and editable 3D models of these components, without taking out the calipers.

3D scanning for reverse engineering produces multiple benefits as well, making this technology ideal for efficient production methods, quality control systems, and file creation.

Here I will cover the basics of 3D scanning for reverse engineering using our own, handheld 3d laser scanner and reverse engineering software to gain an understanding of the process.

I will also introduce several industries our company has first-hand experience in working with in 3D scanning for reverse engineering purposes. Let’s take a look at some of the most common applications of reverse engineering. 

Research And Development

Research and development is perhaps the most well known application for reverse engineering. For companies looking to manufacture their product, most manufacturing processes, including laser cutting and injection molding, will require a CAD file.

The fastest way to produce a file from a working prototype is by 3D laser scanning. This creates an exact copy that a CAD designer can then reverse engineer the scan data to create a digital file. This file is then able to be modified for future project styles or changes.

Optimize Product Design

Another common company use for reverse engineering is for optimizing product designs. It is costly to create multiple prototypes of a product. However, many product designers create one, underlying design that then can have various models built off of this. A fast and precise way to get the original design digitized is by 3D laser scanning.

Updating Legacy Parts

Companies may be using parts with decades old technology. They are one-off, no longer in production, and work great until they don’t. These legacy parts have no original drawings or anyone to fix them. Even product lines can sometimes use multiple legacy systems and ordering custom-made parts can be prohibitively expensive for many businesses.

Reverse engineering can solve this problem by creating production files for legacy products. As written in the previous paragraph, once these 3D files are created, they can also be modified to fit the needs of new production.

The 3D Scanning Reverse Engineering Process

After analyzing some of the ways companies are using 3D laser scanning in their business, it is best to go over how 3D laser scanning is completed. The 3D scanning and reverse engineering process is far different from old-school reverse engineering methods. The Reverse engineering workflow can produce a CAD file for conceptual purposes and manufacturing along with 3D printing and other lean manufacturing solutions.

3D scanning for reverse engineering can be broken into five phases:

1. Prepare the Surface For a 3D scan

The first stage of a 3D scanning process is data acquisition through the scanner. The object that will be scanned needs to be cleaned of dirt, debris, or any other factors as the scanner will scan everything it seems. This is performed by the 3D scanner using a combination of lasers to determine data points and create a map between targets, small stickers that are placed all on the object.

If a part is transparent or reflective, it can be sprayed with a powder-like substance to take away that reflectivity. Doing that can improve the accuracy of your results and make sure unwanted objects aren’t reflected back to the scanner.

2. Starting the 3D Scanning Process

After the object is prepared with targets and free of any debris, a I will need to calibrate the laser scanner. Calibration is essential before performing a laser scan as it determines the correct values based on the environment. Our 3D laser scanner uses a calibration table and will record volumetric accuracy, light, and resolution. It is imperative that the scanner is also calibrated to factory standards by sending in the laser scanner to the manufacturer, but that process is for another post. 

From there a tech will prepare the scanning resolution based on the size of the project. Smallest detail for smaller components and larger for bigger projects that do not require minuscule details. For example, I would choose to scan anywhere from 1 to 5 millimeters on a large boat. Choosing the right size is also key to keeping file sizes efficient along with not maxing out CPUs of the scan computer. 

As the laser scanner is activated, state-of-the-art, highly accurate 3D laser are shot out from the scanner, over the physical objects, and reflect off the targets to create a digital mesh. This is the first step of reverse engineering and this data will be converted into CAD files for design work.

3. Refining 3D Scan Data

Depending upon the goals of the project or the size, a scan technician may need to perform the scan process again. I see this occur mostly on large projects where the underside cannot be viewed or for projects that cannot bear their own weight, causing a flex in the project.

Any movement of the object will cause a discrepancy in the scanning process resulting in incorrect measurement. When a scan is performed twice, I will label it side A and B, to then perform a merge process which I will talk about in the next step.

The refining of a 3D scan requires multiple scans of the same object to collect every detail. Initially, the scan creates the mesh that gathers all major surfaces and features of the object. However for tiny details, you will want to switch to single laser mode and go over the detail needed, slowly.

Subsequent scans will register the finer details of the object, delivering the best scan with highly accurate mesh sizing. The software we use also can identify which sections need greater detail and will automatically switch to a higher resolution for these areas.


4. Convert to Mesh File

Once the refined mesh file has been generated and I am happy with the data, I will need to post process the scan. This step is needed in every scanning project. It allows me to get rid of any erroneous data the laser scanner recorded, as the scanner will scan everything it sees and is why the first step of preparing the object for scanning is so essential. I simply can highlight the data not needed and delete. The native scanner’s software also predictably understands what data is not important and will suggest triangles to delete. 

As I mentioned in the previous step, some projects require two or three scanning sessions. These separate files will need to be merged together and can also let me know if there was any movement between the multiple scans. Merging will create one file and I will choose to export in STL format; the most common and what is need for reverse engineering.

5. Scan to CAD File

The next step is creating a CAD model from the mesh file. Converting mesh files into workable CAD files is done using 3D reverse engineering software, which depending on the size of the object and the detail, can sometimes take considerable time. Essentially mesh data is a guideline for the reverse engineering process and is correct in measurement. 

3D scanning for reverse engineering will create a fully functional CAD model to work with. This data can be used for multiple purposes including running simulations, data analysis, and manufacturing processes relevant to the project’s specific application and business goals.

Reverse Engineering Applications Across Industries

With the highly accurate scan data from 3D scanning services, physical objects can be transformed into a digital model within hours. In the past, engineers had to manually dismantle products to replicate the assembly in CAD software. This process has been replaced with more efficient laser scanning, enabling users to directly transfer the shape and physical attributes of a product to design software.

Reverse engineering is essential for multiple applications including manufacturing, research and development, automotive, and aerospace; among other industries. Due to its convenience and variety of applications, 3D laser scanning is a pivotal engineering tool that companies should invest in and if not, should team up with a 3D scanning services company like Tangent Solutions.

One example of an industry that finds 3D scan data invaluable is aerospace. The amount of attention to detail needed that each component needs in an airplane’s assembly, is unmatched to any other field. Validation of fitment, quality, and integrity can be the difference between a plane with thousands of hours of fly time, or an aviation disaster.

3D laser scanning aids in the data verification process by allowing a technician to check data on a component and compare it to a quality or tolerance guide, instantly. This type of work is how 3D laser scanning can be used to establish a quality control program that increases safety in such an industry. 

How Can We Solve Your Reverse Engineering Challenge?

Advancements in technologies like 3D laser scanning has simplified reverse engineering, increasing its use across many industries. Reverse engineered objects provide precise, quality data. Laser scanners can enable precise 3D modeling of large objects and small objects. The scanned data can be used for CAD designs with numerous possibilities for refining and reproducing quality parts.

When it’s imperative that each measurement and dimension is as precise as possible, 3D scanning for reverse engineering is reliable technology. It is now easier and faster to create 3D models.

Tangent Solutions has a result-oriented team that strives to provide the best 3D scanning services for your reverse engineering needs. We’ve been in the industry for 15 years and utilizes state-of-the-art 3D scanning equipment that includes mobile blue light laser scanners that enable accurate on-site 3D scanning for reverse engineering.

We are a team of dedicated and experienced designer engineers that are skilled and versatile at meeting whatever needs you may have for design, reverse engineering, and product development for your projects.


Sean Kepler

Sean is lead engineer with his previous career stemming from mechanical engineering, automotive dynamics, and aerospace. Pulling from real-world experience, he has over 15 years of experience as a designer and in fabrication. Before creating Tangent Solutions, Sean was the lead designer for many winning off-road race teams as well as mass-market production companies

About Tangent Solutions

Tangent Solutions offers the latest in 3D scanning technology paired with 15 years of CAD design experience, to bring your ideas to reality. Our team specializes in reverse engineering, manufacturing, and data verification. 

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17845 Sky Park Circle Suite E Irvine, CA 92614