What are 3D scanners used for?

A few decades ago, 3D scanning technology seemed to be an innovation straight from sci-fi movies. Now it radically changes various human activities. Read the article below if you want to find out how 3D scanners work and what the data obtained from high-resolution scanning may be used for. The article describes the operation and possible applications of 3D scanners.

What is a 3D scanner and how does it work?

A 3D scanner is a device that analyzes a real-world object, collects data on its shape and translates them into a 3D model. Digitizing the shape of an object can be based on different technologies. In general, there are two types of them: contact and non-contact. In the case of the former, the measuring head must be in contact with the surface of the scanned object. The second type of scanning technology is based on optical scanners that use structured light and laser scanners that measure an object from a distance. It is a faster technique, safer for objects with a delicate surface that could be damaged in contact with a scanning probe. 3D scanners can be stationary or hand-held. Stationary scanners suit well for smaller or medium-sized objects, and hand-held scanners are moved manually over a larger object that need to be scanned to cover the entire surface of the object.

How do 3D scanners work? The devices use structured light emitted by LEDs or a laser beam falling on a scanned object to measure the distance from the light source. Cameras detect the position of points in space, and the software calculates their position in the coordinate system. The direct result of the scanning is obtained in the form of a point cloud, i.e., in the form of a dense multi-million point set constituting the geometric representation of the scanned object. The point cloud can be made in grayscale or colorized (e.g., for visualization) and saved in various formats, such as stl, ascii, or txt. Modern techniques guarantee very precise measurements, with the accuracy of as much as 0.005 mm (5 micrometers).

Before scanning, an object should be properly prepared. For example, objects that are transparent or have a high-gloss surface should be roughened by a suitable agent. Some objects require special markers to be placed on their surface to increase scanning accuracy. After scanning, the obtained data is processed with specialized software.

What are the applications of 3D scanning?

3D scanning technology is used in a wide variety of applications. It is used for various purposes and in many areas. The data obtained as a result of the scanning, among other things, allow for quality control by comparing the scanned object with the design and checking whether the parameters related to the shape and arrangement of the elements are in line with the assumptions. For this purpose, a colored deviation map is generated. 3D scanning also enables the process of creating a digital model based on a real-world object, i.e., reverse engineering, useful for creating replacements or new products. Scans can be modified, and additional parts can be designed on their basis to fit the model. In addition, the scan results are the basis for creating 3D documentation. One of the most popular applications is also rapid and cheap prototyping of a product before its production.

Scanning services also have a variety of non-industrial applications. The data obtained due to the 3D scanning technology can be used in forensics, e.g., in securing traces left at a scene of an incident. It is possible to archive an imprint with a 3D scanner and make a sole mold based on the 3D model obtained. Museums often use 3D scanning to digitize resources or monument documentation. In the area related to cultural heritage, 3D scanning combined with 3D printing technology also allows creating replicas of objects. In the multimedia industry, 3D scanners can be used for creation of virtual 3D models for movies and computer games. 3D scanning is also used in the healthcare industry to create orthoses, prostheses, dental implants, or to simulate the effects of plastic surgery.

You have probably found out that the possibilities offered by 3D scanners are undoubtedly enormous, and their contribution to technological advances in so many areas is unquestionable. Do you already have an idea how you can improve your business with 3D scanners?

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