Thursday, September 17, 2015

3D Scanners and 3D Scanning - State of the Industry

It was about 20 years ago when the first non-contact scanning devices became readily available.  Their acceptance was surprisingly slow given that they had the potential to dramatically cut down the time it took to capture geometry for reverse engineering.  

3D Scanners  - Evolution in Design and Development

Arm-Based 3D Laser Scanner
In the mid 1990s the more advanced design and development companies had adopted 3D solid modeling software at the center of their product development process.  

In order to fully enjoy the benefits of working in 3D there was a need to be able to model every aspect of a new design.  The problem was that design might include many actual existing parts for which there was no electronic data available.  

Examples of this were:

  • Legacy parts designed in 2D
  • Parts made by suppliers for which no CAD was available
  • Human bodies
  • Other organic shapes needed for design simulation or visualization

In response to this vital need, a number of new technologies emerged. One notable technology was the line laser scanner mounted on a CMM or Portable Arm such as those from Faro or Laser Design, Inc. Another development at the time were 3D Scanners and Structured Light Scanners, such as those from Steinbichler, GOM and Cognitens.

Despite the tremendous benefits to be had from adopting these technologies their acceptance was surprisingly slow.  Partially, this was because of the cost (most solutions with software would cost over $100k.)  Another problem was the need to acquire new skills to use the technologies. 

But, the biggest reason was many companies simply failed because they did not understand the potentially game changing benefits that made the cost, time and effort justifiable.

3D Scanners - 20 Years Later

Today, the prices of laser, White light and Blue light scanners have come down significantly and the software supporting them has become much more powerful and easier to use.  

It may have taken a bit but anyone involved in the design and development process is working in 3D scanning appreciates the benefit of being able to capture 3D geometry.  Engineering and design students all use 3D scanning technologies at college and expect to find them out in the workplace.  

So, two decades later, the argument of whether 3D scanners are useful in the product design and development process has been fully won and anyone involved is aware of the benefits and their adoption is widespread.  

That being said, the number of 3D scanners sold are low in comparison to conventional measuring devices such as Coordinate Measuring Machines (CMMs) simply because there is a limit to the number of 3D Scanners any company needs for reverse engineering, design and development.

Which brings us to another question and new argument taking place now, “Can non-contact 3D scanning take the place of conventional technologies for the inspection and quality control of production parts?”

3D Scanners - What about inspection and quality control?

From the very first appearance of 3D Non contact scanning technologies their makers have put at least as much emphasis on their potential use for inspection and quality control as they have done on reverse engineering and data capture for the development process.  

The websites and brochures describing 3D non-contact scanners and 3D scanning technologies suggest their use on the shop floor for production parts measurement is widespread. 

In reality, this is not the case. 

In fact, there are very few manufacturers that actually use 3D non-contact scanning methods for measuring production parts.

The reasons cited for slow adoption of 3D scanning systems such as laser, blue light and white light scanners for production parts inspection have some similarities of those given for earlier technologies: 

  • Cost/High Prices
  • Time to train in  new technology
  • Limitations (perceived or real) of current 3D scanning technologies  

For example, currently, most 3D scanners are not robust enough for shop floor use and they require highly skilled and trained operators.  

There are also two major technical drawbacks in most systems:

  • White light and blue light systems can’t measure recently machined or polished metal surfaces unless they are painted or coated so they are not reflective.
  • For almost all 3D scanning systems there are no ISO standards applicable to satisfy quality and traceability requirements.

Not all 3D scanners are created equal

3D Optical Scanner - Wenzel CORE
Wenzel CORE Optical Scanner
One system that has overcome these issues is Wenzel’s CORE machine that uses a unique high intensity light spot sensor mounted on a high speed shop floor CMM. This sensor allows it to measure the shiniest of parts with very high accuracy and precision. 

In fact, it can measure the thickness of a fingerprint on a mirror. 

In addition, it can be calibrated to ISO 10360, opening the door to measurement of safety-critical polished aircraft turbine blades where it is quickly becoming the industry standard for this application.

By overcoming the limitations of the current 3D scanning systems the CORE machine is proving the case for this technology in inspection and quality control. 

In the case of turbine blades there is demand for 100% inspection of complex and highly polished parts where those two characteristics rule out the use of CMMs or other optical scanners, the CORE 3D scanner clearly wins the argument of using optical scanners in production measurement.  

Surgical implants are another application that is likely to become fertile ground for this technology because there are no other solutions that meet the requirement for accurate, traceable measurement and are also fast enough to prevent quality control being a production bottleneck.

3D scanning and 3D scanners - What is the Future? 

Looking ahead, the area of manufacturing that generates the most “buzz” is additive manufacturing or 3D printing. It promises so much, but is facing   similar challenges to non-contact 3D measurement.
How do you get out of the development and prototyping lab and into serious production of parts? 

Industrial CT Scanner - Wenzel exaCT S
Parts that cannot be made by conventional means probably can’t be measured by conventional means either. So, even if a manufacturer makes the parts with a 3D printer, he can’t measure them. And if he can’t measure them, he can’t sell them to demanding customers in the aerospace or medical industries.

Because of the way that additive manufacturing works, the only sure way to be able to measure the parts made is using a device not limited to line of sight or the need to gain physical access.  The perfect solution to this challenge is the CT scanner, used as a metrology tool. 

The development and use of industrial CT scanners for metrology almost mirrors the development of additive manufacturing machines.  Industrial CT is running a few years behind, as most current CT machines for metrology are generally large, expensive and slow.  They are also mostly in the hands of service providers rather than end users.  

If 3D printed and additively manufactured parts are to find acceptance in highly regulated fields like Aerospace and Medical, CT machines are going to have to become more widely used for metrology purposes.

At this time and into the foreseeable future, industrial CT is the only game in town for measuring the complex parts that only additive manufacturing can make. Wenzel has developed the exaCT series of desktop-sized CT for this purpose.

3D Scanners - Why quality control & inspection are slow to adopt? 

The same basic reason design and development were slow to adopt them 20 years ago.

While there are some minor and apparent reasons manufacturers are slow to adopt new technologies.  Things like price, time to learn, and effort involved. 

Even some legitimate technology-based questions like - “it can’t measure shiny parts” or “it won’t last on the shop floor.”  At Wenzel America, we are answering many of those questions for our customers and winning the technical limitations and other arguments more and more every day. 

Ultimately, the basic reason manufacturers are slow to adopt non-contact 3D scanning technologies into inspection, quality control, shop floor and production measurement is a simple lack of understanding of its current and future potential.

It’s exactly the same argument against 3D scanning in design and development 20 years ago, and as an industry -- We created new systems, innovated, brought costs down, sold -- and thus, won that argument.

We’re doing the same thing today and very soon we will win this one, too.

Point Clouds, Reverse Engineering, Part Inspection and Wenzel’s Sweet Spot

Today you can literally buy hundreds of different models of scanners – here are some of the initial choices you have:
  1. Contact or non-contact?
  2. White (structured) light, laser or CT?
  3. Hand-held or attached to a device with a coordinate system

Contact or Non-Contact?

Most often the choice is determined by 3 factors:

  1. Cost 
  2. Accuracy
  3. Point density relative to patch size to be scanned

If you already have a CMM, then adding a scanning probe like Renishaw SP25 is relatively cheap.

If you need the data you collect to be accurate to in the region of 5 microns (2 tenths of a thou) then you need contact – if you don’t need this accuracy then a light or x-ray based scanner may well be ok.

If you need very high density of points to define a surface and/or your patch is large, then contact scanning is likely to be too slow. If you only need to scan surfaces occasionally then a contact scanning system may be ok.

White Light, Laser or CT?

The differences between these three non-contact systems are thoroughly covered in the other article on this month's blog.  It will give you all the data you need to determine the best choice for your specific need. 

Whether your need is data dense point cloud gathering, reverse engineering or part inspection.  We focus on our machines but the information is universally applicable.

You can check the article out here:
CT Scanning vs. White Light Scanning vs. Laser Scanning

Hand-held or attached to a device with a coordinate system?

Hand held systems tend to be lower cost solutions, but the accuracy of the data obtained is very reliant on extremely competent software to ‘stitch’ or ‘register’ the point clouds collected together. 

Accuracy can be improved by fixing targets to the parts so that each data set can be positioned relative to these targets. Adding targets and extra time (and money) post processing the data can make the costs of such a system higher than first envisioned. 

There also is no base coordinate system from any kind of machine supporting the scanner, so accuracy and integrity of the data gathered and surfaces produced depends on target fitting and software manipulation.

Laser scanners are commonly mounted on flexible arm CMM machines (Like Faro or Romer). The data is always collected in reference to the coordinate system of the arm. Arms like this are not as accurate as a CMM machine (like a Wenzel frame) but in a lot of applications it can be perfectly good enough. Software manipulation may still be needed to smooth and blend joints in patches, however.

How Wenzel approaches point clouds

At Wenzel we like to produce CMMs of high accuracy and in the scanning world we sincerely believe that the best way to collect point clouds where you really know that the points you collect are ‘real’ is by mounting your scanner on a stable CMM. That's our sweet spot. 

For small parts this can be a bridge type machine or for larger parts (like automotive sheet metal and plastic or foam trim parts) we offer great value horizontal arm machine or many different configurations.

Phoenix Sensor on Bridge CMM
Phoenix Sensor on Horizontal Arm CMM

Shapetracer on Bridge CMM

At Wenzel – we believe in collecting data with scanners mounted on an accurate CMM frame. This way you can be sure the points you collect are ‘real’ and have little need of stitching (registration) by a CAD software.

CT Scanning vs. White Light Scanning vs. Laser Scanning

Wenzel America’s exaCT CT System vs. Phoenix vs. Shapetracer

This article is part of our ongoing educational series about the results and applications you can expect from different measurement and inspection systems. In this second comparative piece (we compared REVO and CORE last month) we look at three of our non-contact 3D scanners, side-by-side, so you can see the relative strengths and weaknesses related to your specific inspection requirements and the exact application. 

How do computed tomography (CT), white light scanning & laser scanning compare?

Being most familiar with our own systems we’ll be comparing the following machines:
  • Wenzel’s exaCT M - A high-powered Industrial CT scanning machine
  • Wenzel XOplus CMM with our Phoenix White-light sensor
  • Wenzel XOplus CMM with our Shapetracer Laser line scanner

(Note: You should find all of this basic information applicable and helpful when comparing any metrology equipment using the leading non-contact technologies - laser line scanning, CT and white-light scanning, regardless of brand.)

All 3 systems can measure and reverse engineer parts - so how do you choose? 

Our first tip would be to read the article (if you haven’t already) explaining these three scanning technologies and point cloud collection in simple terms -- then come back to this article well on your way to understanding which system might be right for you.

You can also the print the Technology Scorecard from the 7-Systems Analysis white paper, where you’ll see a numerical score of relative strengths and weaknesses by application and machine, all on a single page.

The Contenders - exaCT vs. Phoenix vs. Shapetracer

exaCT: Computed Tomography

We’ll begin with a brief video of what is arguably the biggest game changer in modern metrology - CT scanning.  In this video, Giles Gaskell gives a brief overview and you see the machine in action. 

5 Advantages of CT Scanning with our exaCT series of CT machines

1.   Only way to measure and reverse engineer ALL 
      internal and external features.

2.   Nothing beats CT for small and intricate parts

3.   Gives you the “Part DNA” --  ALL features, ALL   
      data from completed, working part

4.   Differentiates between components of different 
      densities in an assembly

5.   Excellent accuracy for a scanner

5 Reasons the exaCT system may not be the best choice for you

1.   Relatively high price

2.   Only works for relatively small parts

3.   X-Ray exposure, though low and completely safe, 
      must be monitored.

4.   Not always the fastest method

5.   Very large data files (which could be good & bad.)

Phoenix: Structured White-light Scanner

6 advantages of the Phoenix sensor

1.   The ONLY white-light scanner to be CMM-               mounted on a Renishaw PH10M

2.   Collects point clouds and measures geometric       features

3.   Not too sensitive to surface conditions or color

4.   Excellent data on metallic parts – sheet metal,       turbine blades and heat shields

5.   Perfect for plastic parts in the medical or
      aerospace industry where a touch probe is
      needed for accuracy & scanner is needed 
      for  point clouds -- Phoenix does both on 
      1 machine, with same standard change racks.

6.   Very ordered data.

2 reasons the Phoenix might not be best for you

1.   Machine must be stationary to collect data (not continuous.)

2.   Relatively small field of view (but is adjustable.)

Shapetracer: Laser Line Scanner

Finally, an inside look at Wenzel’s unique innovations on Laser Line 3D scanning technology - Shapetracer - video with Applications Engineer, Jonah DeLongchamp from the Metrology Matters Live event. 

5 Reasons the Shapetracer laser scanner is your best choice

1.   Can be used as an inspection device – gives color 
      or heat maps against CAD

2.   Can be used as Reverse Engineering tool to collect       unknown surface data

3.   Continuous high volume, collection of points

4.   Mountable on Renishaw PH10M and stored in
      ACR3 tool changer

5.   Excellent value for a Laser scanner

2 potential disadvantages of the Shapetracer Laser scanner

1.   Laser scanners are more sensitive to surface
      finish and color – Parts may need to be sprayed

2.   Large data files (this could be good or bad.)

CT, Laser, or White Light? Which scanning technology is the winner? 

...You decide:

  • For small detailed parts, multi-material assemblies and measuring inside parts our exaCT systems are the only game in town.
  • For excellent quality data from metallic parts in sheet metal, medical, aero engine and turbine parts the answer is the Phoenix white light scanner.
  • For CAD-compare, reverse engineering and the absolute best Laser Line Scanner on the market your answer is the Shapetracer laser scanner.

More information on each of these 3D Scanning Systems?

Since the Metrology Matters Live open house we’ve released a 7-Systems Analysis Whitepaper, a comparative metrology Technology Scorecard and a 7-part video series looking inside each metrology inspection system. If you’ve not gotten your copy or seen the other videos in this series, please visit

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

An Interview with Giles Gaskell, Wenzel America Applications Manager

What is your background?

I attended Aston University in Birmingham, England completing my degree and additional professional qualifications in Mechanical Engineering in 1982.

My first engineering job was actually while still in university as an intern for Cadbury’s chocolate factory. I helped to design the machines that made Cadbury’s Creme Eggs among other things.  

What was your early career like?

Early on I was involved in the computer aid design (CAD.)  I worked with various software companies throughout the 1980s, then in the early 90s I started working for a Computer Aided Design software pioneer called Parametric Technology Corporation - otherwise known as PTC. 

They were introducing their Pro/Engineer Software, which was the world’s first widely available solid 3D Modeling System; it revolutionized the way design was done.  From the beginning I was really on the cutting edge of 3D design and engineering.

How did you get started in 3D Scanning?

After I left PTC, I started an engineering consulting firm teaching people how to do solid 3D modeling with these new CAD software products. 

Almost from the start I noticed an interesting pattern -- Companies would buy the software, buy my company’s training services and  we’d train them...
Then, inevitably they’d contact us at some point and say, 

“Our people still can’t seem to get the 3D modeling right.  So, either the training is off, the software is incapable, or our people are just not smart enough.”

That started me investigating what was going wrong from an engineering perspective, and what I found led to my career in 3D Scanning and Metrology.

I discovered that none of those things were the cause of the problem. 

It wasn’t my training, it wasn’t the software and it wasn’t the people.

The problem was the measurement.

No matter how good the training, the software, or the people, if your measured dimensions are off, the solid 3D models are going to be wrong!

People were using tape measures, calipers, and height gages, trying to measure things and then keying those dimensions into a computer to try and model them.


They weren't able to create accurate models because measuring solutions they were using were wholly inadequate.

How did you discover the solution?

I said to myself, "What we need is a 3D scanner, something that uses lasers or light to measure the whole part accurately."

So, I went out to buy one… and couldn’t find one.

They just were not commercially available. Then I found a company working out of a university in London, who’d actually invented one, but hadn’t been able to commercialize it.

When I saw what they had, I asked them to team up, because I already had many customers who desperately needed the solution they’d invented.  

They said yes.

And that was when I founded a new company called 3D Scanners UK, in 1997.

We licensed and marketed this new scanner. We had almost no competition. We were first to market in the U.K. with a commercially available handheld 3D scanner.

How did you end up in the U.S?

With such a big success in the U.K we decided to expand the company into Italy. Unfortunately, it did not pan out as we'd hoped.

But, we did set up a successful distributor in the U.S., so I came over to help expand 3D Scanners' market penetration here and existing management continued to run marketing in the UK. 

Then, as the story goes... "I met a girl, became a U.S. citizen..."

So I sold my shares in the UK and continued working for our U.S. distributor, NVision, who is still in the business today, albeit with different products.

What happened after you decided to stay in America?

As I said, our company, 3D Scanners UK, was strictly a licensee and we didn’t have ownership of the product. 

And not long after I decided to sell my shares and stay in the U.S.,  the company that owned the 3D scanner we had started with in the UK and I was also selling here --  sold their company (and the product) to a larger metrology firm.

This created a brand new problem for us -- what does a 3D Scanning distributor do with no product to distribute or bring to market?

How did you solve this new problem?

Essentially, I had to do what I did before -- go find a product our customers needed. 

So, I went to Germany and found a product called MAXOS by a company called ScanTec and we became the North American distributor of a new non-contact scanner.

But this technology was not handheld, it was designed for a whole new realm of non-contact scanning  -- production inspection on the shop floor.

How did you navigate going from Reverse Engineering 3D Scanners to Production Inspection scanners?

Well, we knew we needed a partner who knew that world, since we did not. So, I found Wenzel and presented the MAXOS scanner to them to exclusively use and install on their CMM measuring machines.

Wenzel loved it. 

In fact, as luck would have, I apparently have a knack for finding products with a lot of potential because Wenzel liked it so much they bought the German company that made MAXOS.

I’d effectively sold my way out of a job… again.

How did you get started with Wenzel America?

From NVision I went on to work for LaserDesign who was a supplier for laser scanners and the preferred Wenzel partner, incidentally. So, I’d moved into a new area of 3D scanning with Laser Design’s laser scanners, but as the preferred supplier, I remained connected to Wenzel.

Then as luck would have it, Wenzel bought a German Laser Scanner company that produced the Shapetracer and Pointmaster software -- which they started putting on their machines instead of the LaserDesign's scanners.

At this point, everything was pointing in the same direction for me and Wenzel. They had seen the same things as I had in these new technologies and we'd both “bought” into them in slightly different ways.

I'd invested by acquiring knowledge in them and they'd invested by acquiring the companies themselves -- so our paths had mirrored quite a bit.

As a result, my unique breadth of knowledge and experience in these non-contact 3D scanning technologies set me up to become Wenzel’s next “acquisition” in 2010.  

At which point, I was hired to help spearhead this new focus and became their Applications Manager for 3D Imaging and 3D Scanning products.

What is your purpose in regard to expanding the adoption of 3D Scanning technology by manufacturers?

Starting in 1997, I knew using a handheld non-contact laser or white-light scanner was the future for accurate measurement in design and reverse engineering.  Today, 20 years later, that argument has been won. 

Everybody knows about the usefulness of that technology.  Any company that needs it, has pretty much used it, or owns it.

On the other hand -- Non-contact scanning in a production environment for inspection and quality control using high-speed optical scanning, like we have with the CORE machine and the Phoenix scanner…

That battle - has not been won. 

Even after 10-years I don’t see any competition for what we have in the CORE machine.

My mission today is to see the CORE machine become the industry standard for turbine blade manufacturers and medical equipment manufacturers.

I am convinced there is absolutely no reason anyone making turbines or medical implants should be using any other measurement technology. 

Nothing else gives them the precision measurement they need for adequate quality control and inspection.

The only thing left is educating them enough to understand what it offers them.  So, that is my mission. Get this into widespread use.

How do you help your customers?

Our 3D Scanning systems here at Wenzel help people make things that otherwise cannot be measured.

Medical device manufacturers and turbine blade manufacturers can make safety critical components with a new freedom to design blades or implants with geometries they need, but could not previously measure.

You can’t sell safety-critical components for aircraft or medical use unless you can accurately measure them.  With any other measuring technology, except the CORE machine, you become very limited in your design geometries. 

Consequently, innovation becomes hampered.

The advances in manufacturing techniques that are being developed, from 3D printing and other new manufacturing methods are all very exciting. But, there is a risk their growth into the high-value production parts will be restricted if those parts can't be measured.

Manufacturers might be able to make a part, but if they can't measure it to verify its quality - they can’t sell it.

Measurement risks becoming the bottleneck that holds back design and production from developing and manufacturing to the degree they should be or could be.

Our mission, my mission, at Wenzel America is to get this technology out there and remove that bottleneck.

What would you recommend to manufacturers who want to know more about what non-contact scanning advancements can do for them?

Well, they can start with the other three articles we did this month:

3D Scanning - The State of the Art

CT Scanning vs. White Light Scanning vs. Laser Scanning

Point Clouds, Reverse Engineering, Part Inspection and Wenzel’s Sweet Spot

They should also download the 7-Systems Analysis and Technical Scorecard watch the individual overview videos on the CORE, Shapetracer and Phoenix and while they’re there.

Probably the best thing is meeting face-to-face and getting a hands-on look at the machines at our Quality Show booth in Chicago Oct 27th-29th, 2015.

Of course, they can contact me at Wenzel America at 248.295.4300 as well.