The standard file format used by 3D printers is STL which can be exported from CAD designs or generated by 3D scanners. Where CAD files for an object don’t exist, objects can be accurately scanned to generate these files for further work in CAD or for directly printing out a 3D model.

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How 3D scanners work

By projecting a pattern of light on an object and examining how it is distorted by the object’s shifting surface, 3D scanners can quickly record its shape and dimensions.

The scanner can be set up according to the kind of object the operator wants to capture.The object to be scanned can be mounted on a software controlled turntable so that it can be scanned from several directions and the model views automatically assembled saving time in post processing. Other simple processes can be used for larger objects.

The cameras record the distortion of the projected light pattern on the surface of the object which is a function of its distance at a given point. This data is used to generate a mesh, which, in turn, is used to generate an STL file and other formats.

Meshes can also be used as a template for reverse engineering by generating an accurate representation of the object consisting of surfaces and solids used by CAD software.

3D scanner benefits

  • 3D scanners are the ideal companion to 3D printers, particularly in capturing and reproducing complex geometry. This saves a great deal of time compared to remodelling from scratch in CAD and can be more accurate too.
  • Results are accurate enough to be used in engineering environments for reverse engineering and fast inspection, saving time compared to traditional methods such as CMM.
  • Typical applications include automotive, aerospace, medical, computer graphics and cultural heritage.