Today, most people are familiar with such the concept of 3D printing. Many companies use modern 3D printers to recreate layouts and models of various shapes and sizes. Some companies not only create small items (e.g. phone cases, souvenirs, sneakers) but also large objects (e.g., houses, engine parts, etc.)
However, all of this would be impossible without 3D scanners. 3D scanners allow you to accurately copy almost anything – talk about huge buildings and structures, human beings, animals, small objects and much more.
Read on to learn more about this 3D scanning technology.
What is 3D Scanning?
3D scanning dates back to the 1960s. The technology was developed to help transferring the physical parameters of an object into a digital format in the form of a 3D model. The need for this technology arose as the use of computers in everyday life and in production increased.
The first 3D scanners were quite simple. These equipment did not have a wide range of functionality. Gradually, the scanners were improved and became more complex, making it possible to achieve even clearer images of objects.
Today, 3D scanning technology has become even more relevant with the advent of lasers.
3D scanning has opened new opportunities in various fields, including automotive, military, design, medicine, cinema and others.
How Do 3D Scanners Work?
A 3D scanner is a device that scans an object and digitizes it using sensors. The device then uses the information received to create a 3D model. A 3D scanner can create a digital copy of any physical object. This is what makes it different from conventional scanners, which can only read information from documents and photos.
The scanning process can take place in different ways. The process usually depends on the type of 3D scanner and the technology used, and the object to be scanned (i.e., whether the object is stationary or moving).
3D Scanning Technologies
There are 2 main types of 3D scanners; laser and optical. Their main difference lies in how and with the help of what the data is “removed”. Let’s take a closer look at both technologies.
Laser 3D Scanning
As the name implies, laser 3D scanning is carried out using a laser. The scanning can be done at both short and long distances from the object.
Most 3D laser scanners work on the principle of triangulation. Here, the camera finds a beam on the surface of an object and measures the distance to it. After that, a cloud of points is created, each of which has its own coordinates in space. Finally, a 3D model is built based on these point.
3D laser scanners are affordable, easy to use, and have high scanning accuracy. However, there are restrictions on the distance and size of the object that can be scanned.
There is also a type of laser scanner that works by measuring the response time of a beam from the surface of an object. This is known as a laser rangefinder.
Laser rangefinders are mostly used to create 3D models of buildings and structures. The scanners are impractical to use at short distances since their response time will be short and the accuracy of the data reduced. This scanner stands out for its fast scanning speed and the ability to read fine details.
The main disadvantage of laser scanners is that they cannot be used to scan moving objects. In such a case, optical 3D scanners can be used.
Optical 3D Scanners
Optical 3D scanners shoot an object illuminated by a special projector with one or several cameras from different angles. A 3Dl image is built based on the resulting image.
The downside of this technology is that it is difficult to scan reflective and light-transmitting surfaces (i.e., shiny, specular or transparent items). However, when scanning a person, the devices work perfectly.
3D Scanning Techniques
Any object can be digitized either through contact or non-contact methods. With contact method, active interaction with the subject is necessary. With the second method, no contact is necessary.
Both of these methods have their advantages and disadvantages.
Contact 3D Scanners
These scanners have a mechanical probe with a special sensor that measures parameters and transfers the collected information to the device. With these devices, the object to be examined is placed on a special surface and fixed (if necessary).
This close physical contact makes it possible to accurately determine and then build a 3D picture of the object. However, there is a small risk of damage to the prototype.
Non-Contact 3D Scanners
This category includes all devices that can scan from a distance. The scanners can also be used to get data for objects located in hard-to-reach places.
With these devices, a flux of radiation (it can be ultrasound, light, X-rays or a laser) is directed at an object and reflected from it. This radiation is recognized by a 3D scanner.
The scanners work using a similar principle with video camera. Moreover, additional devices may be required for better illumination.
There are two types of non-contact 3D scanners:
- Active Scanners
These scanners work with the help of a laser beam or structured light directed at an object. When the light is reflected, the scanner gives information about the location of the object in the form of coordinates.
- Passive Scanners
These scanners use time-of-flight rangefinders, which read the time and distance that the laser beam travels to the object at each point in space. These ultimately allows you to accurately recreate its 3D image.
Desktop 3D scanners are very popular and widely used. These scanners are simple and safe to use, do not require any special technical skills and are quite cheap. A good example of such scanners is the EinScan-SE 3D scanner. The device can be used both at home and in the office. Moreover, it has access to the API of many popular 3D printers. Therefore, you can immediately send the created 3D model for printing.
Types of 3D Scanners Based on Use
There are different types of 3D scanners. The main ones include:
- Manual. These are simple models that are easy to use. The devices are quite compact and do not require special skills. However, their technical capabilities may be somewhat limited ..
- Portable. These scanners are mainly used for field work since they can be easily carried along.
- Desktop. These scanners have advanced functionality and are used to create high-quality 3D models. Most of the scanners are used in offices.
- Stationary. The scanners are usually involved in production in enterprises, since they can scan a large number of objects of the same type at once. The devices are installed on special turntables.
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From the various types of 3D scanners, you can find one that is meant for the specific task you will be involved in. In some cases, scanners can independently get the data of physical objects on their own. In other cases, a person has to move the scanner sequentially around the object until all the necessary information is collected.
Handheld 3D scanners such as the Calibry are in high demand. These seemingly simple scanners have a a high resolution and scanning accuracy. For example, the Calibry can scan objects from 0.2 to 10 meters in length. Objects with a non-standard surface (e.g., dark or shiny, with a lot of corners and small details) are not be a problem to scan with this device. This scanner is easy to carry as it only weighs 900g
Advantages and Disadvantages of 3D Scanners
Do you really need a 3D scanner given how expensive it can be?
To help you determine whether you need this equipment, let’s look at its advantages and disadvantages.
- You can scan objects in remote or inaccessible places
- The scanners can “read” not only colors and images, but also to convey the texture of the surface
- Scanners speed up the process of taking data from an object, no matter how complex it may be
- Scanners come in different models, including handheld or portable options. Therefore, you can choose whichever is suitable for you.
- Some scanners cannot detect transparent, black or white objects. In this case, their preliminary preparation (processing with a special composition) is required.
- Some scanners do not always display complex objects correctly. This is especially the case with objects that have many inserts and partitions.
- To obtain a high-quality result, you need to be skilled in 3D modeling software
- It is expensive to repair the devices in case their parts fail.
If you need high-precision and high-quality 3D copies of objects, you cannot do without a 3D scanner. The device can be used both indoors and outdoor, and with any kind of object. The wide range of 3D scanner models available make it easy for you to find one that suits you in terms of quality and price.
Choosing a 3D Scanner
If you are looking to buy a 3D scanner, there are two main important things to consider. These are the features of the device you want as well as its price.
Below are the main technical issues to consider when thinking of buying a 3D scanner as they can determine the scanning results that will be achieved:
- Accuracy. The higher the accuracy of the scanner, the more detailed your scanning result will be.
- Resolution. Resolution determines the quality of the scan result.
- Operating range. Find out how close/far the device can be from the scanned object.
- Scanning field. This determines the size of the object that can be scanned in 1 session.
- Does the scanner capture various types of surfaces with complex features (e.g. channels, baffles, holes, etc.)?
- Portability. Can you easily move the scanner? This feature will also be determined by the size of the device.
- How long does it take to get the scanner ready for work?
- How long does a scanning process take?
- Scanning possibilities. Can the device scan objects of different shapes, textures, material, as well as operate in various conditions (temperature, lighting, etc.)?.
Of course, quality 3D scanners are generally more expensive. Nevertheless, you should mainly consider the tasks you will be doing, before taking into account other features or capabilities of the scanner.
Application of 3D Scanners
3D scanners are in demand in many areas. The devices are used in both industrial and consumer applications. Examples of areas where 3D scanners are used include medicine, automotive, manufacturing industry, architecture, construction, film and design, among others.
For example, in dentistry, 3D scanners can be used to create accurate 3D models of dentures. One type of such scanner is the AutoScan DS-EX PRO from Shining 3D. The device perfectly copes with a variety of tasks, is affordable and reliable.
3D scanner technologies are also indispensable in engineering. Building prototypes digitally is now easier and faster than before. Before, the process required taking multiple manual measurements and then entering them into a database. But with the 3D scanner, any physical object can now be recreated in 3Dl form fast and with minimal error.
In cinemas, fantasy characters come to life thanks to motion capture technology. The technology makes it possible to create realistic characters, which would be impossible without 3D scanners.
3D scanning has changed the way things are done in many technical industries. 3D scanners have made work easier for technical specialists – engineers, designers, designers, etc. However, to use the devices optimally, you need to be familiar with 3D scanner software.