Handheld, affordable 3D scanners make the leap

Written by: Paul Fanning | Published:

As the 3D printing revolution has gathered pace, so too has the requirement for 3D scanners. The ability to scan an object quickly and easily and then reproduce it on a 3D printer is not merely the preserve of novelty exhibits at trade fairs, but is increasingly a useful engineering function.

However, until now, both of these facilities have been the preserve of large, well-heeled organisations that can afford to shell out five figures on the equipment in question. However, 3D printers are now firmly within the price range of most companies and are finding a range of applications in the product development process.

And the same is true of handheld 3D scanners, a number of which are now available. Perhaps the most obvious link between the printing and scanning sides comes in the form of the Sense handheld scanner from leading 3D printing company 3DSystems.

Retailing at less than £350, the Sense is the first 3D scanner designed for the consumer and optimised for 3D printing. The Sense is the only 3D scanner to deliver precise instant physical photography, so everyone can capture his or her scanable moments. Sense has flexible scan size and can capture everything from a picture-perfect cupcake to a full-body 'selfie', processing data in seconds for an instantly 3D printable file. Sense comes with an intuitive user interface with easy and automated zoom, track, focus, crop, enhance and share tools.
Sense printables can be sent to Cube and CubeX 3D printers or directly uploaded to Cubify.com for cloud printing in a range of materials, including Ceramix, Aluminix and Clear.

The Sense offers mobile scanning compatible with the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 tablet and offers a highly diverse scan range, with auto-optimised settings for small and large objects like a book or a motorcycle, heads to full bodies and scenes as large as 10ft tall and wide.

Equally, the system's automatic object recognition extracts precise targets from the busiest of backgrounds, scanning only the object you want., Sense software is intuitive, fast, accurate and easy to use. Scans process in seconds and can be cropped, enhanced and solidified for printables in just minutes. Scans can also be uploaded directly for cloud printing with a variety of materials on Cubify.com or sent directly to a 3D printer.

Sense is powered by 3DS' proprietary Geomagic software, meaning that the Sense offers high quality, scan speed and easy editing capabilities for consumers. More recently, 3DS has offered the iSense, which operates via the Apple iPad.

Creaform's Go!SCAN 3D scanner, used in conjunction with VXmodel and its 3D-scan-to-print functionalities, allows users can scan any 3D object, clean up their meshes, make them watertight, and quickly generate print-ready files. Thanks to VXmodel, they can bypass the unnecessary post-treatment steps as well as quickly and easily prepare their files to be printed in 3D.

Typically with this system, objects are scanned in five minutes or less, while it also provides all the functionalities needed to prepare scan models for 3D printing: alignment, geometrical entities and cross-sections, mesh improvement, mesh editing and more.

The Go!SCAN 3D provides an accuracy of up to 0.1 mm (0.004 in.) and resolution of up to 0.2 mm and users can easily and simultaneously capture high-quality geometry and colours.

"Creaform's unique Go!SCAN 3D and VXmodel module are the perfect complement for engineering and CAD professionals that use a 3D printer," said Francois Leclerc, Product Manager. "The duo's seamless and quick integration with any 3D printing or CAD process means that users no longer need to rely on third-party post-treatment software. This enables them to get the job done faster. With the Go!SCAN 3D and VXmodel, they ultimately get the optimal scan-to-print solution!"

Also from Creaform (albeit slightly further up the scale) are the HandySCAN 3D laser scanners, which have been completely re-engineered for optimum speed, accuracy and portability.

The new HandySCAN 300 and HandySCAN 700 provide high levels of accuracy, resolution and substantially higher measurement rates—all in truly portable device. The benefits of the metrology-grade HandySCAN 3Ds include a volumetric accuracy of 60µm/m, much greater speed (25 times faster than former generation); and automatic mesh output, allowing ready-to-use files as soon as data acquisition is complete.

Meanwhile, Eykona, a UK company that developed its technology for 3D wound imaging, recently transformed into Fuel 3D Technologies, which in 2013, raised over $325,000 for the development of an affordable, high-resolution, handheld 3D scanner through its successful crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter.

With its origins in Oxford University, Fuel 3D is claimed to be the world's first 3D scanner to combine pre-calibrated stereo cameras with photometric imaging to capture and process a 3D model in seconds. The expected retail price of a Fuel3D scanner is $1,500.

"Our core technology was originally developed with medical imaging applications in mind, so we are delighted to have secured this contract in order to ensure that, under Fuel3D, the Eykona scanning technology continues to play a role in the healthcare sector," says Stuart Mead, CEO, Fuel 3D Technologies.

The system resolves a fully 3D surface consisting of a large number of physical and colour measurements. These can then be viewed from any direction, edited, and used as source material for 3D printing or for on-screen manipulation.

When a picture is taken on a conventional 3D mobile phone or digital camera, it uses a technique known as stereoscopic imaging. This uses two camera viewpoints, one for each eye, to display a 3D image on a stereoscopic screen that gives the impression of depth.

By contrast, the core technology behind Fuel3D fuses geometric and photometric stereo 3D recovery techniques and is finely tuned to capture high-resolution 3D colour images. This raw capability provides the opportunity for an object to be captured in true 3D geometry and full colour for any other non-medical applications.

Once a shot has been taken on the Fuel3D scanner, the raw image data is converted into true 3D colour geometrical data by the company's own software, which is included with the scanner. To run the Fuel3D software, users simply need a reasonable specification computer (Mac, Windows 7 or higher, 2GB RAM, dual-core processor).

Once a shot has been taken on the Fuel3D scanner, the raw image data is converted into true 3D colour geometrical data by The company's own software, which is included with the Fuel3D scanner. To run the Fuel3D software, you will need a reasonable specification computer (Mac, Windows 7 or higher, 2GB RAM, dual-core processor).

The Fuel3D software incorporates proprietary algorithms to combine the data from its photometric and geometric 3D imaging systems to produce a single 3D model that is both accurate and has high resolution of surface detail. In essence, the high-accuracy, low-resolution geometric 3D data is used as a skeleton on which the higher resolution photometric 3D data is overlaid. The resulting 3D images consist of a large number (several hundred thousand) of samples, each having XYZ geometry (surface location in millimetres) and material properties (colour) in 8 bit RGB.


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