British company turns to crowdfunding to develop affordable 3D scanner

A British company is using crowdfunding to raise the money to launch an affordable 3D desktop scanner.

Chester-based CADScan was formed in 2011 by Alastair Buchanan and Tony Rhoades, who were "motivated by a desire to make 3D scanning easy to use and accessible to all." Its product – CADScan 3D – is an affordable, desktop 3D scanner and software that creates a full 3D mesh for use in CAD or 3D modelling. Able to scan objects up to 250mm x 250mm x 250mm, CADScan 3D uses optical scanning technology to create high-quality, full-colour models. What sets the CADScan 3D apart are its ease of use and price point. It is priced at just £650 and there is no post-processing required, no training, no calibration and no alignment – just push the button. A typical scan takes around five minutes – speed depends to some extent upon how powerful the computer running the scanning software is, and how large the object is. The system has a resolution of 0.2mm (when close to the centre of the turntable, and improves as objects pass by closer to the scanner head. It produces a watertight, 3D mesh of objects that it scans. It does this by automatically combining multiple surface and profile measurements as the object rotates on the turntable. This mesh can be saved in a number of formats and is suitable for 3D printing without any further processing. For users who wish to perform their own meshing or manipulation of the model, the data can also be saved as a point cloud. The system software has been developed using both the prototype scanner hardware and CADScan's own simulation software. A complete system simulation has been created which allows CADScan to test and validate system performance and to optimise the configuration of the scanner for several different applications. The first version of the scanner has been designed for general purpose scanning of small objects. CADScan's approach has been specifically developed for 3D object scanning. It uses a combination of low-resolution and high-resolution scanning methods to minimise problems associated with surface reflections. For robustness we use the object profile to rapidly build an approximate model, while it uses a novel white-light scanning technique to capture surface detail. The company has also developed its own scanning head, which does this without the use of expensive projectors or complex optics, meaning we can position our scanner head close to the object. This improves the resolution of the captured data and is key to the compact and low-cost design. Asked what market CADscan is designed to meet, Alastair Buchanan says: "CADScan's target audience ranges from engineers and CAD designers to hobbyists. It's not uncommon for an engineer to be creating a 3D model of a small object by measuring a part on his or her desk. CADScan 3D is affordable enough that almost any design or drawing office could have one to scan those parts quickly – saving engineers time and reducing the risk of manual measurement error." Because the CADScan 3D is designed to be affordable, it opens up the possibility for reliable, easy-to-use scanning for many applications where alternatives have been either too expensive or too difficult to use effectively. The CADScan scanning technology can be scaled and optimised for specific applications in different industries, bringing usable, low-cost scanning to many sectors. The scanning technique also has potential for further development to improve both performance and cost. This scanning envelope of the machine is similar to that of many 3D printers, making it the ideal companion to such equipment. Unsurprisingly, then, Buchanan is keen to emphasise that hat this market is one that CADScan sees as key to its future development. "The rapid growth of the 3D printing industry already means that many small engineering, technology or creative businesses have already invested in their first 3D printer, he says. "However, few have the skills or training required to create 3D content, so it has also created a need for new tools to create and manage this. This need will drive the 3D scanning market which, until recently, has been the preserve of the larger firms who have been able to invest in the expensive products currently available, or the skilled hobbyist." As to the markets in which he believes it will have success, Buchanan says: "Industries such as the technology and electronics sectors are crying out for a high-quality 3D scanner that is quick and simple to use while hobbyists and art communities are excited about the prospect of an affordable 3D scanner that they can use at home, without any training being required." However, the technology aside, one of the remarkable things about CADScan 3D is its current funding model. CADScan received seed investment from The Matrix Model Group, and successfully applied for grant funding from the UK government's Technology Strategy Board to develop the concept into a pre-production prototype. CADScan is now using crowdfunding to help bring its first product, CADScan 3D to market. Interested parties can pledge anything from £5 to £5,000 or more via Kickstarter for a range of rewards including different versions of the 3D Scanner. The funding goal is £80,000 (US$ 124,000) needed to get the scanner ready for production. The deadline for raising this amount is Tuesday 19th March. At the time of going to press, CADScan has already hit over 80% of the goal with more than £66,000 pledged ]. Although the company is ready to take the product into low-volume series production, there are a number of steps which it needs to complete before it is able to manufacture and sell the CADScan 3D. These are where the hoped-for Kickstarter funding will come into play and include a need to make some refinements to the prototype hardware and software and finalise the performance parameters; designing and building production tooling; subjectuing the product to a certain amount of one-off conformance testing and certification to allow it to be sold in the UK and the establishment of an effective supply chain for manufacture and testing.