The Consumer’s Guide to Laser Scanning

The advancements made in both 3D printing and 3D LASER scanning in just the past five years have been nothing short of industry-changing. What many people don’t realize is there are perfectly functional and in some cases exceptionally high quality LASER scanners available for quite modest budgets.

The combination of a 3D scanner and a prototyping 3D printer can be utilized to make exact “copies” of physical objects. While it is sometimes necessary to make use of specialized software to “disassemble” a large object so it can be reassembled at its original size, for purposes of replacement parts, small objects and accessories, these technologies can be quite powerful and useful.

Sensor

Like a digital camera’s CCD or CMOS, a 3D scanner’s power comes from its central sensor. Some use dual sensors to scan multiple locations on an object at the same time. These kinds of scanners make use of LASER technology to rapidly record the surface features of an object. Some industrial models require the object to be scanned to be transported to the scanner, as the mechanism might make use of many sensors to scan an object from several vantage points at once.

Models

What a 3D scanner produces is a series of locations in three-dimensional space that together describe a three-dimensional object. These locations can be combined into a file which can be read by a modeling program and displayed in an application that allows a modeler to make changes to the model before it is printed. Some 3D scanners are equipped with modeling software. There are also third-party applications available.

Portability

What 3D printers have been pursuing for some time is desktop portability. This is an even more important feature for 3D scanners, especially those that make use of LASER technology to perform advanced functions. There are more than a few models of 3D scanners that are either handheld or small enough they can be placed on a desktop and used to scan objects small enough to fit on their bases.

Many of the devices retail for well under $1000 and produce high-fidelity models which can either be immediately translated into physical output from a 3D printer or edited and textured with modeling software.

Applications

The promise of micro-industrial applications which make use of a combination of 3D scanning and 3D printing is growing day by day. What this kind of technology brings to the home is the ability to literally create an object of any shape or create objects matching another shape. Consider for a moment the ability to take a single place setting and build exactly matching flatware for a party of 20 in an afternoon? Or being able to construct a wrench that perfectly matches the head of a bolt?

Micro-industrial technology has the potential to become the third revolution in both materials science and mass production. When it happens, 3D LASER scanners will be one of the central technologies responsible.