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Comparing Open-Source and Low-cost 3D Printers with Commercial Products

When the typewriter was introduced in 1868, it was to people what virtual reality is to us now. It was something people had never seen before, a new idea that added value and made things a little more perfect. The typewriter created perfect typography, but one mistake meant the paper had to be re-written. The same is true today as more and more people learn how to use 3D printing and rapid prototyping. One over-looked mistake in the design of a piece can be fatal to a budget or to the project itself. For that reason, in this article we will discuss the implications and differences between open-source low-cost 3D printers, and commercial rapid prototyping machines.

Open-Source Low-Cost 3D Printers

Open-Source is the term given to software that is free to use and be edited by people other than the creator. This made a shift in the way that creators and 3D enthusiasts create objects. Imagine if the software was not open-sourced, what would happen? People would have to create and design their own 3D objects from scratch which would have made the industry grow at a much slower pace. By making it an open-source concept, people can simply look for designs they like on websites like TurboSquid and download them to print on their 3D printers.

The difference between these low-cost open-source models is that they’re often free and not protected by patents or trademarks. This is one of the major differences between commercial RP machines and low-cost 3D printers.

Commercial RP Machines

We gave you an example of an open-source website where people can simply download the designs they want, and they can further edit it to fit their individual styles. When using rapid prototyping machines or companies that will do it for you, the designs and processes are not open-sourced and so one must abide by their rules and regulations. Because of this same reason, using rapid prototyping will cost a lot more.

There are many reasons why commercial rapid prototyping machines are more expensive and we will discuss those in detail in this section. Commercial Rapid Prototyping machines are more expensive and often protected (not open-sourced) because of the following things:

  • Precision: These machines have been perfected for much longer than low-cost 3D printers, hence why they are so precise in the final product.
  • Materials: Commercial RP Machines have the ability to use a wide range of materials such as metals, powder, and even cement. This allows a large degree of freedom on the products they can create.
  • Size: Some commercial RP Machines can fit a human inside of them, whilst the biggest 3D printer is only a couple of feet high.
  • IP: Intellectual property is what keeps Nike and other top brands at the top. They protect their designs and ways of producing products, to that one can tell right away when a fake Nike product is produced. It’s the same with these commercial rapid prototyping companies.


Low-Cost 3D Printers: Here’s another resource if you are looking to purchase a low-cost 3D printer. It is TechRadar’s list of the best 3D printers to use in 2018. Prices range from $206 to $4,000 and can be found anywhere on Amazon, e-bay or directly from the 3D company’s site.

Commercial RP Machines: On that note, low-cost 3D printers will cost no more than $4,000, but commercial RP and 3D printing machines start at around $6,000 and can go up to $750,000 depending on the size they can render, what materials they use, and the precision of the final product.

Main Differences between Low Cost and Commercial Products

We have summarized the differences between low-cost open-source 3D printers, and commercial rapid production machines. We provided resources to websites like TurboSquid, an open-source 3D printing object design company dedicating to sharing 3D designs with the world. We have also shared places where you can purchase low-cost 3D printers that start at $200 and go up to $4,000 with an emphasis and contrast to commercial rapid production machines which start at $6,000 and can go up to $750,000.

Favorite Applications of 3D Printing Technology

A multi-billion dollar industry was born at the turn of the 21st century when the process of 3D printing was introduced in the 1980s. In the past thirty eight years, a lot of changes have been done to the industry, allowing buyercs to purchase their own 3D printers for less than a laptop. It is estimated that by the year 2019 this industry will be worth more than 20 Billion dollars. We estimate it will be worth more if certain industries, like the medical and housing, put these printers to use for mass production. Though there are hundreds of ways in which the 3D printing technologies can be used, we’ve narrowed it down to some of the favorite applications. This article is focused on describing those applications, and is open to interpretation for you to do further research.

Favorite Applications

These applications are not in order of importance, because they are all fascinating in their own ways. We’ve chosen to discuss food items, innovation and a faster and inexpensive way to prototype, prosthetic components and body parts, houses and architecture, and tissue engineering (organ printing).

1. Edibles
Food printing has already happened. At the CES convention we witnessed the first 3D printed chocolates, candies, and other cakes. The machines are so precise, that they can print intricate designs perfectly, such as these.

2. Prototypes
One of the main reasons why 3D printers were created, was to allow entrepreneurs and hobbyists to quickly get ideas off their minds and into reality. 3D printers allow people to do just that, by designing, uploading, and printing their ideas on the spot.

3. Prosthetic
The medical industry will see a tremendous increase in its availability of prosthetic parts, and this increase will allow prices to become more affordable. We often see photos of children, and adults in third world countries missing a leg, arm, or other body parts. It would be great if these costs were able to come down, due to the availability and ease of printing them with inexpensive, but durable materials.

4. Houses & Architecture
In a previous article, we discussed how Winsun, a Chinese construction company is printing houses in twenty four hours. If they had the money and resources to do this non-stop for a year, they would be able to literally print, 8,760 houses in one year. This would create a lot of revenue for electric and water companies, and would help solve the issue of homelessness.

5. Organic Printing
Printing organs sounds like something out of a movie, but that’s because it is. We often create movies as a reflection of our futures, and printing organs is arriving faster than we imagined.

In conclusion we have provided our favorite 3D printing applications. Hopefully you will do further research to understand why 3D printing is such a revolution.

Rapid Prototyping in the Fine Arts, Architecture, Jewelry and Industrial Design

The art that has lived through the centuries, that of Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Picasso, among others, is still loved because of the time it took to make, and the precision of the artists’ hand in creating it. The Sistine Chapel, for example, took four years to paint. The statue of David took three years to sculpt. Now, we can print beautiful and perfect items with the use of rapid prototyping and 3D printing, within hours or days. There’s a company in China that is creating art for a purpose. They are 3D printing houses in twenty four hours. In this article, we will discuss the ways in which rapid prototyping and 3D printing are making it easier for people to delve into the fine arts, architecture, jewelry, and industrial design.

Fine Arts

Wouldn’t it be amazing if one could eat a course in fine arts and be able to create paintings the same way Van-Gogh or Picasso did? Well, that reality is getting closer and closer. In an article provided by Bloomberg, a 3D printer is able to scan, digitize, and re-create fine-arts paintings with a level of detail so precise, that it knows the brush stroke and pressure used in every part of the painting.

Fine arts not only include painting. They also include statues and modeling. Rapid prototyping allows artists to test different materials such as resin, paint, gel, PVC, metal, and other mediums to create unique pieces with the help of technology. One artist who has pushed the boundary of science is Jeff Koons. He has created his pieces using traditional methods, but with the advancements in rapid prototyping, he will be able to create even better pieces.


As mentioned earlier, architecture and construction is an area being changed by rapid prototyping. When more and more companies see the vision that the Chinese company, Winsun, is bringing into reality, the issue of homelessness will be solved. Imagine being able to literally, print, new houses in every part of the world. Solving such a problem would allow veterans, third world countries, and people living on the street to get their lives back on track and create their own impact in the world.


Major jewelry companies have been disrupted by sites like Etsy, where people often handcraft their pieces and sell them at a much cheaper price. With the help of 3D printing, jewelry designers can think of an idea, design it online, upload the file to the machine, and print as many copies as they have material for. Once the piece is printed, a simple coat of gold, silver, or bronze paint can make a plastic ring or necklace seem like the real thing. People don’t want to pay the thousands of dollars, unless they have it, for a real gold ring, but rapid prototyping is making it much easier to make their own.

Industrial Design

Industrial design is the process of designing products that will be produced for mass consumption. Think chairs, sofas, kitchenware, etc. Designers draw the design, manufacture it, and test it. Rapid prototyping is perfect for this, with this example of industrial design.

In conclusion, 3D printing and rapid prototyping allow us to create almost anything we can imagine, and easily recreate what already exists. We can test different materials, structures, and dimensions quickly. We have shown how even the fine arts sector is being revolutionized by a process with purpose.

Medical Applications of Rapid Prototyping

There comes a time in humanity’s time-line, when a dent is created in the universe. This dent, allows us to live in excitement and curiosity of what the future will hold. In this time of our life, we can now use rapid prototyping in the medical field. There have been plenty of movies showcasing a human with robotic parts, a cyborg. With rapid prototyping coming into the medical field, we are getting closer to the day when we are half human and half robot. In this article, we will discuss the ways in which rapid prototyping is revolutionizing the medical industry.


In the past, prosthetic and implants were provided to patients with a standard measurement scale. We know that one size does not fit all, and though some people may have a similar body-type and can wear the same length of jeans or size of shirt, it is completely different when it comes to a body part. Rapid prototyping has changed this and can now provide a very accurate measurement of a prosthetic product by taking x-rays of the patient and converting them into a file which the RP machine can read. It then analyzes the best type of material to create a hand, leg, or any other type of prosthetic in order to get as close to the real thing as possible.

Combining rapid prototyping with advances in the neuroscience sector, doctors and scientists are now able to give prosthetics which can be controlled by the mind. This is the dent spoken of earlier in the introduction.


The scientific term for rapid prototyping of organs is tissue engineering, but in this article it will be called organ printing. Printing organs is a very recent discovery.

The best use for these printed organs is in the transplant process for patients in need of a heart, or any other organ. Because it is a subject that has not yet been mastered, there’s a lot of research being done to perfect the method. Currently, heart valves, liver structures, kidneys, and other hollow structures have been printed for testing. Certain hollow structures such as veins, bladders, and tubes for urinating have already been implemented in clinical trials.

The way in which these tissues have been printed is by using inkjet printers which have been modified to be able to “print” with gel and living cells, instead of ink. Once the gel and cells are printed in the form of the organ or hollow structure, the cells begin to fuse and create a living tissue.

Revolution of the Medical Industry

Rapid prototyping is an amazing area of research which will revolutionize, and is already shifting the medical industry towards a futuristic society. In the past, people did not live beyond the age of forty due to poor medical procedures, infections, and lack of anesthesia. With our current medical research, the average lifespan is seventy to eighty years old, and more and more people have lived past the hundred year mark.

Rapid prototyping is the next leap in our evolution and if done correctly, will allow humanity to surpass the limits of death. Imagine being able to print new organs, new skin, new tissues, new blood cells, every time we need them. When this is achieved, humans may become immortal. For now, it is an area needing lots of research, but also one that is moving very very quickly. Soon, we will be able to print complete, operating organs for all ages, and we may even be able to print our own medicine prescriptions by going online and selecting the sickness and the cure. We are far from being able to do all this, but the millennial generation may be the one to see all of these creations and live forever without any more sickness.

What is the difference between an RP machine and a 3D printer?

In the past decade, we’ve come across some amazing discoveries and inventions in technology, which have allowed our society to create, test, and understand new methods of production. Arguably the biggest break-through has been that of the 3D printer, which had the whole world speaking about it after it was showcased at the annual CES convention. Rapid prototyping has been around for much longer. Used as a way to quickly test a new product or process, it has allowed entrepreneurs to get their ideas out and pivot with speed. 3D printing, however, is a revolution of its own. In this article, we will discuss the differences between rapid prototyping machines (RP Machines) and 3D printing.

Rapid Prototyping

So what is RP, or “rapid prototyping”? Just like the name implies, it is a method of rapidly creating a prototype of an idea that may work in theory, but may not work as perfect, in reality. In order to know whether or not the idea or product will work, one must create the prototype (preliminary model). Most often, rapid prototyping machines are used to create a three dimensional model with moving components, and accurate dimensions. Rapid prototyping can also be used to create network architectures, which are not completely physical. This is something that a 3D printer cannot yet do.

One of the biggest differences between a rapid prototyping machine and a 3D printer is the cost. Rapid prototyping machines are typically used by large manufacturers who test hundreds of products and do not want to be limited by size, speed, or material. A rapid prototyping machine can create prototypes out of any material, and can create larger scale models. On average, there’s about a fifty thousand dollar difference between a regular rapid prototyping machine and a regular 3D printer.

3 Dimensional Printing

In the RP section, we discussed the biggest difference between the two processes of three dimensional prototyping, which is the cost of each. There are more differences between a 3D printer, and said RP machines, which we will show in the form of bullet points, and further explain in the conclusion.

These differences include:

  • Machine Size
  • Prototype Dimensions
  • Ease of Use
  • Cost of Materials
  • Accuracy
  • Choice of Materials

Overall: The Results

In conclusion, RP Machines are a LOT bigger than 3D printers. The prototype dimensions in 3D printers are limited due to their size. 3D printers are easier to use and can be controlled through easy-to-use apps. 3D printer materials cost a lot less to feed, but are limited to PVC and other plastics. Finally, the accuracy of an RP machine is much better.

Scanning Cameras

In the forefront of recent cool technological advances, 3D printing has to be at the top of the list. The average person now had the ability to print just about anything, providing they have a 3D model. With a 3D scan and a 3D printer, you can literally reproduce anything, from a piece of jewelry to a building. Scanning cameras can also be used as a platform for developing totally new creations. For a frame of reference, think about Photoshop and how using a photo, you could modify an image in a variety of different ways. 3D scanning cameras give you the same capabilities, but with objects.

Shooting for 3D Scans

Making a 3D model involves a camera and software. Many different types of cameras can be used from GoPros to videos and smartphone but DSLR cameras work best. First, the object must be still, not too big, small or shiny. There needs to be lots of surface details and not too many areas that are uniform and have no definable features. Thin, delicate parts might also cause some problems. Place the object on an easy to shoot platform with good lighting, such as a stool. Next, get ready to take about 100 photographs remembering that the better the photos, the better the scan.

The photographs of the object need to be from every angle and every side. It is best to overlap the photos to best capture its 3D shape. The object of each picture should be to overlap from the previous photo. The software does not care about excess photos or overlapping, or even order of photos for that matter. It cannot create from material it does not have so it is better to take too many pictures than too few.

The software you are using to create 3D scans from your camera should instruct you on how to set up the camera for the best shots. Taking better quality photos means better quality scans. Remember that taking photos from different angles will alter the background of the photos. Pick a multitude of angles to be sure to get the best exposure of the object. It is best to monitor the photos as you take them to be aware of how the background changes, and make sure the effect is not too dramatic. Also, keep an eye on the exposure of the shots as overexposure is better than underexposure.

Camera Scanning Software

Once the object is photographed from a variety of angles, it’s time to pick your scanning software. There are many choices available including free software such as Autodesk and Memerito. Both are easy to use. Other options that are higher in quality but take up a lot of RAM and are a bit more difficult to use are Autodesk’s 123D Catch and Agisoft Photoscan. After choosing the software, it is time to process your images. This will include mesh and color mapping. “Shapespeare” offers useful tips on how to process and 3D print just about anything.

Additive Technologies in Injection Molds

Injection molds can be produced faster and at lower costs using additive technologies rather than subtractive technology. In addition, additively produced tools can be used to indicate the performance of a final hardened tool. The use of additively-fabricated molds can create plastic components by the dozens, and in some cases, the millions, to be used for prototypes or testing.

Subtractive CNC or spark erosion drawbacks:

  • Methods are slow and expensive.
  • Skilled workers for these methods are in short supply.
  • Product complexity is high, product cycles are short.
  • More precise tools are needed from declining supply of toolmakers.

Benefits of Additive Technology

The benefits of the process of additive technology in injection molds include saving time and labor. In addition, additive technologies can provide the option of improving mold performance that supersedes subtractive technologies. It provides the ability to build conformal cooling channels which assist with increased thermal performance. It also allows for the use of multiple or gradient materials which optimizes the performance of molds. These benefits decrease cost and may be a revolutionary development in the field by decreasing cycle times by 20 to 30 %.

When Should Additive Technology Be Used?

Additive technology may never be able to replace subtractive methods, even though progress has been made to increase labor, time, precision and durability. The benefits should be evaluated on a case by case basis and should be considered for the following types of projects: when reduction production to market time is vital, for short to medium productions and prototypes, and for molds that are difficult to machine due to geometry.


While additive methods as compare to CNC do have its advantages, the limitations should also be considered. The tools produced by additive methods can be less accurate and less durable. Some parts may be prone to geometry and size limitations. The parts produced may not be identical to final hardened tooling. Additionally, the tools produced utilizing additive methods may not be modified easy or corrected using the traditional tool making methods.

There are variations of these limitations based on each individual case and for the specific additive technology utilized. Tool fabrication by additive technology is a one-shot deal due to the fact that tools produced by this method cannot be modified. This is a disadvantage compared to conventional tooling that allows for modifications during the tooling process.

There are many complex factors in considering selecting the additive process such as: final application, part size, production volume, material requirements and the need for accuracy. It is important to keep in mind that while direct tool production may be faster, the indirect process can be lower in cost and produce more accuracy. In certain cases, it may be inappropriate to produce one part of a tool with CNC technology and the other part with additive methods. Consideration should be given for economy and an appropriate process for each component of a tool rather than for the tool in its entirety.

3D Scan Helped to Recreate the World of Star Wars

Photo scanning, also known as photogrammetry, is the process of capturing reality through the use of regular or 2D photos. Those photos are then used to create computer generated algorithms that in turn create textured 3D models. The first job of the 3D scanner is to create a point cloud which is geometric samples on the subject’s surface. The points are then used to create the shape of a subject, a process referred to as reconstruction. The colors are collected at each point recreate the subject realistically.

A 3D scanner has common traits with a camera in that they both have a cone-shaped field of view and can only collect information about surfaces that have an unobstructed view. Basic photos collect color information in its field of view. A 3D scanner collects distance information about everything in its field of view. This virtual photo produced by the 3D scanner gives information about the distance to each surface point. This provides a 3-dimensional position for each surface point that needs to be identified.

A single scan will not provide enough information to make a complete model of a subject. It may take hundreds of photos from different angles and directions to obtain the necessary information to replicate a subject. Then, the scans have to be processed through a reference system to merge the scans in order to create a complete model. The process is called the 3D scanning pipeline.

3D Scans Create Star Wars Character

3D modeling techniques have been used in the entertainment industry, especially in gaming, including the worlds in Star War’s video game Battlefront. Lucasfilm recently used 3D scans for their movie Rogue One: A Star Wars Story to recreate Grand Moff Tarkin. The original actor, Peter Cushing, who played the character in Star Wars in 1977, died in 1994. With the use of a facial performance rig worn by the actor Guy Henry, Lucasfilm was able to pull off one of the most stunning visual effects in modern movie history.

Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) was responsible for the 3D recreation of Grand Moff Tarkin. Usually, the virtual process takes place by digitally sculpting or using 3D scans of living actors. This was not possible since Cushing passed away. ILM began studying Tarkin’s character from the original Star Wars movie, A New Hope. This process was not having much success. ILM then stumbled on a life cast of Cushing that was used in the movie Top Secret, produced in 1984. This key element allowed the visual effects team to make great process. First, ILM sculpted Tarkin’s face using CGI and digital models. Then, they were able to use their 3D scanner to make the 3D models. Using markers to pinpoint the location of Tarkin’s face, points of reference were created to map Tarkin’s face over Guy Henry’s face for the filming of the movie. The device they used was the NextEngine 3D Laser Scanner that captured the textures and colors needed to make the special effects realistic and lifelike.

Metal Castings – Investment Castings

Additive technologies involve the use of injection molds which can produce components faster and at lower costs than the traditional use of subtractive technology. Additive technologies can be utilized as investment casting patterns. Casting methods are one of the first industrial processes developed by humans and have been utilized for thousands of years. The results can yield detailed and intricate results. One of the first materials used for the casting process was bees wax. This process is so adaptable that the forms of the bees have been used as patterns for producing detailed and stunning gold jewelry.

One of the modern applications for additive casting patterns is creating environmentally friendly and socially conscious jewelry. On the other end of the spectrum, applications for casting patterns have produced products that contain a variety of metals and can weigh several hundred pounds.

Additive casting patterns involve a thick coating or investing, which is a pattern that melts or burns out quickly as opposed to a material like ceramic, which doesn’t. A gate can be built into the pattern for allowing liquid materials to be poured into the mold. Passageways can be created to allow for hot air and melted and burned pattern materials to escape. Invested patterns can be placed into a furnace to be fired. This allows burn out or the pattern to melt and fuse the ceramic into a solid, hollow mold. At this point, molten metal can be poured into the ceramic mold and after the liquid metal cools and becomes solid, the mold can be broken, revealing the desired object. Excess material needs to be removed and the object will usually require substantial cleaning.

Additively-generated Patterns

Other types of casting can be created from additively-generated patterns. They can be created from thermoplastic extrusion using wax, plastics, 3D printing and inkjet technology that utilize wax-like plastics. These types of materials require being melted or burned very cleanly from the investment. Patterns created from these processes can be any size and range from tiny to several meters. The highest resolution produced for these products is from inkjet technology or 3DP. It can be used for creating large envelopes for industrial sized castings.

Another type of production for patterns for investment casting is stereolithography. The drawback of stereolithography is that the photopolymer materials used in this process are more difficult to burn out than materials in the other types of processes. They also have a habit of expanding and cracking the mold. In order to counteract these issues, 3D Systems has created a special build style called QuickCast. The improvements to the system included creating a photopolymer pattern built into thin, hollow sections which crumple during the burnout process. The lack of expansion results in less material to remove after the completion of the process.

Sand Castings

Sand casting is a process that begins by compacting fine and moist sand around a box-like framework constructed out of wood. At the end of the process, the pattern is removed from the sand which leaves behind a cavity that can be filled with molten metal. The metal cools and then hardens and is removed from the sand. The sand is then able to be recycled. This process also required the extra material to be removed from the finished product and clean-up performed.

Sand casting holds the option to skip the step of building a pattern mold. This can be advantageous if very few castings are required or if the patterns being produced are very expensive. It’s most beneficial during the early stages of a project before the final dimensions, as well as other parameters, have already been determined.

A system that does have size limitations for the molds it can produce is laser sintering. This system fuses polymer coated sand one layer at a time to form sand casting molds. This method has been coined DirectCroning by EOS GmbH.

A process that removes the use of additive fabrication altogether is offered by Clinkenbeard & Associates. In this process, large blocks of sand are created using a polymer binder. The blocks are then machined utilizing CNC techniques and diamond tools to create a mold for metal.

Large parts can be accommodated by ExOne and the German company Voxeljet Technologies. Their process involves machines that utilize a wide area inkjet which bonds layers of sand into core patterns and sand castings in a build chamber, weighing several tons. This allows large volumes of several cubic meters to be produced, similar to 3D printing developed by MIT.

Sand castings can also be produced by Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM). The main US producer of this technology shut down a decade ago limiting the growth of this application. LOM is available from some service companies and can produce large parts similar to wood patterns.

Scanning Technologies at a Glance

There is a plethora of companies that currently manufacture 3D scanners and digitizers. This growing market produces instruments able to digitize objects microscopic in size to entire constructions sites. The speeds for data acquisition vary from a few points per minute to a million points per second. The price ranges vary from a thousand dollars to a hundred thousand. This broad spectrum represents the large variety of devices now available. The market and technology base for these products may be premature and not fully developed.

Another field that also has a wide range of technology is rapid prototyping. Coincidentally, the Reverse Engineering (RE) used in this field may also be reverse-rapid prototyping. RE develops converted point cloud data, acquired through digitization or noncontact scanning in CAD models. The CAD models can be then used for fabrication materials by removing methods like milling or material incremental methods.

Key Components

There are three key specifications when considering digitizers: volume, speed, and accuracy. Volume is usually not much of a limitation because scans can be stitched together to create objects that are larger than the available scanning volume. Time and accuracy are elements that need to be considered.

Accuracy is the precise measurement that correlates directly to dimension. It isn’t the same as resolution, which specifies distance or volume to the smallest measurable increment. An instrument can have a high resolution and still be inaccurate, or the opposite can occur. Problems occur when manufacturers specify one value but not the other. They do this by creating their own set of conditions and terminology. This can cause different specifications to be applied to each axis of measurement. Accuracy and resolution are vital to applications and may require additional data from manufacturers or performance testing.

Speed is the frequency determined in points/second. This area also has a tremendous amount of variation among manufacturers as they only provide anecdotal specs or no information. The best possible option is to determine which regimen the instrument falls under.

Mechanical Touch-Probe Systems

There is a large distinction in digitizing technology between contacting and non-contacting instruments. Touch-probes, known as contacting digitizers, provide consistent measuring accuracy. They are very affordable instruments. Some contact digitizers are manually positioned to provide a single measurement. Others may scan a surface to provide a series of measurements. Touch-probes can be programmed to automatically scan an object using a mechanical drive system. Many of these systems have articulated arms that provide free movement in many directions.

A disadvantage of a contacting device is that it can distort soft objects. They may also be too slow to digitize complex objects such as the human body or may require assistance in scanning complex and curved surfaces. The advantage is that they are impervious to surface colors, transparent or reflective surfaces that may affect lasers and light-based systems. Even though they are slow, they may be the most effective means of digitizing surfaces where only a few data points need to be gathered. Narrow slots, pockets and difficult to digitize surfaces may be accessed more easily by manually positioned devices.

Laser-Based Systems

The two classes of non-contact scanners are based on either laser technology or a non-coherent white or broadband light source. The laser scanners use geometric triangulation to obtain an object’s surface coordinates. Their simple technique and quick ability to digitize large volumes with sufficient accuracy and resolution make them popular. The system is complete with self-contained measuring heads which usually mount to touch-probe arms. They also have customizable fixtures for special applications.

If surfaces have color, are transparent or reflective, laser and light-based systems may be affected. With experience, laborers have learned to work around surface issues which have caused errors. It is imperative that safety factors be followed when using a laser. Although lasers are calibrated not to cause harm, using them on reflective curved surfaces could potentially cause harm from a focused beam.

Dual-Capability Systems

Digitizing instruments and laser scanners often have complimentary capabilities. Laser devices are capable of scanning broad areas using lasers mounted on the arm. Areas that might cause problems for lasers can be contact-probed. Companies are now developing instruments that can simultaneously carry a contact probe and a laser head.

Some companies, such as Arius 3D, have the ability to produce color laser scanning. Arius’s scanning technology utilizes a combination of red, green and blue lasers to gather geometric data and color. Minolta and Cyberware use lasers to get measurements and then combine that data with color video.

Other Laser Systems

Other laser technologies include optical radar, laser tracking and time of flight. These systems have good accuracy and the ability to take measurements of the object from a great distance. The “stand-off” distance, which can be tens of meters, has important applications in digitizing buildings, large machines, and large structures.

The time it takes for light given off by a laser to return to its sensor is known as “time of flight”. Optical radar systems operate the same way as do radar systems, measuring the return time of radio waves. Both can capture scenes and objects with great speed and don’t usually require retroreflectors. Laser trackers search for a signal from retroreflectors on the object in its field of view. This system works with a high level of precision and is often used for aligning large machinery or verifying dimensions of a large object.