A GUIDE TO REVERSE ENGINEERING
One of our most common requests as product designers is to reverse engineer an existing part or product. For various reasons, people may need minor tweaks to parts, or need to replace a part and would like a rapid 3D printed version. This is where comparing the final CAD model to the original part can test our CAD skills.
What is reverse engineering?
There are several ways of reverse engineering a part, from physically deconstructing a product into as many pieces as possible and measuring them to 3D scanning. Reverse engineering is the method of creating an exact copy of a product or part by intricately examining the part to discover how it works and the number of components it is made up of. This can be proved to be tricky depending on what shapes and surfaces need to be recreated.
This is the original method of reverse engineering, using tools to measure the overall dimensions of the part with a steady hand and rough estimation. For the majority of simple shapes, this works well and will result in an almost exact replica of the part. With straight edges, small fillets and flat surfaces this is the only method you need to reverse engineer parts. However, we reach complications when we have complex surfaces and more organic shapes.
The relatively new technology is used to analyse a part and recreate it in a 3D software. It eliminates as much human error as possible and will pick up the basic shape. The main advantage of using 3D scanning to reverse engineer parts is the speed in which it can scan a part in comparison to measure each dimension separately. The steps of 3D scanning usually involve using a small device to take images of all angles of the part; the data will then be converted into an accurate polygon mesh. Another great aspect of this method is the scale at which you can scan, unlike the idea of giant calipers being used to measure car parts and buildings, photogrammetry can be used on a large-scale object. There are however some issues with 3D scanning. The process does not pick up all the detail that a part has, small parts, textures and threads will not be as detailed as needed. Another issue that comes from this is the difficulties that come with editing a scanned model, Once the model is opened up in a CAD software, the mesh that is created is then hard to add detail and surfaces too. This is ideally the stage when any detail that has not been picked up by the scanner can be added, however, the mesh created makes it very difficult to edit this body.
Both the conventional measuring and 3D scanning are used in the industry now and are the best ways to reverse engineer a part. Depending on what part needs to be reconstructed we would use either. The pros of using 3D scanning involve the minimal time and possibility to make complex surfaces, however using basic measuring tools works for the majority of parts and is also cheaper.
If you have any parts that need to be reverse engineered, contacts as now!
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