3D Scanning

3D Scanning – What is 3D scanning and how does it work?

Interactive Example: Click the above image to control in ‘3D Virtual Reality’. Your touch-screen controls are:Rotate: using a single finger, Zoom IN & OUT: using two finger slide, Move UP/Down: using two fingers). 


What is 3D Scanning?

3D scanning is a fast and highly accurate way of acquiring an actual physical real world object. The 3D scanning systems we use make 550,000 surface measurements per second in order to capture an exact 3D digital model of the desired object. Additionally, our scanning system are calibrated on site to ensure a consistent measurement accuracy of up to 0.5mm. We are also able to capture objects in 24-bit colour (ideal for online 3D virtual reality models).

Once an object has been 3D scanned, it can be exported to a digital output device such as a 3D Printer or CNC Milling Machine, in order to then produce an identical physical model at the required scale. See more 3D Virtual Reality models created from 3D scans by clicking here


3D Scanning - UK - 3D Scanning Services - How 3D scanning works

Above is photo of the original vase that we have 3D scanned.


How Does 3D Scanning Work?

One of the central concepts in laser 3D scanning is time-of-flight. This refers to the use of a laser range-finder, in order to time the round trip of a light pulse travelling from the scanner to the object and back again. Since the speed of light is a known constant, the distance between the scanner and the object can be accurately calculated by measuring the time it takes for a pulse of light to return to the scanner. Hence, the formula for calculating distance based on time-of-flight is:

3D scanning - UK - How 3D scanning works

Hence, the accuracy of a 3D scanners time-of-flight sensor depends on the accuracy of the scanner’s internal chronometer. A key advantage of laser scanners is their ability is accurately measure longer distances. This is why they tend to be used for large-scale surveying applications. However, accurately measuring a pulse of light traveling at 186,000 miles per second is still very challenging. 


3D Scanning – How Triangulation Works

Most 3D handheld scanners use triangulation to off-set the diminished accuracy that comes with time-of-flight measurements. 


Diagram of laser triangulation. (Image courtesy of Teledyne Dalsa Imaging Blog.)

Diagram of laser triangulation. (Image courtesy of Teledyne Dalsa Imaging Blog.)

Some handheld laser scanners incorporate a camera that tracks the laser light projected onto scanned surface. This enables the 3D scanner to triangulate the distance of the objects much more accurately than with time-of-flight measurements alone. However, although triangulation enables higher accuracy, it also limits the effective range of the scanner, which is another key consideration.


Limitations Of 3D Scanning Accuracy & Realistic Expectations

Although high-resolution 3D scanning technologies provide a highly efficient means of digitally acquiring objects in relatively high detail, it is important to consider that all mobile 3D scanning systems have a maximum resolution accuracy. High-end 3D scanning systems incorporate measurement calibration software, in order to maintain consistent measurement accuracy within a given tolerance. For example, a 3D scanning system with a resolution accuracy of up to + or – 0.5mm, means that it can wrap polygons around an object which are as small as 0.5mm, with a maximum accuracy of up to half a millimetre.

Although 0.5mm is generally considered to be a high level of accuracy for any mobile 3D scanning device, one needs to be realistic about the limitations of capture, especially when trying to 3D scan sharp edges on an object. In this situation, the software looks to wrap polygons around any sharp edge, which tends to have a softening effect due to the minimum size of polygon.

For this reason, precision engineering applications tend to import 3D scans (usually in STL file format) into professional CAD software. This requires converting the 3D scan data into a file format that can be read by the CAD software (i.e. files generally need to be converted from STL to STEP or perhaps IGES file format). This then enables a CAD technician to import the file into CAD engineering software and tighten everything up, ready for physical model output using either CNC milling or 3D printing.

Hence, 3D scanning should not be thought of as a way of capturing an exact copy of an object, but more a means of capturing something very close to the original object, which can then be further developed.  


A Full Range Of 3D Scanning Services

Superscan3D provide a full range of 3D digital services, which enables us to deliver our customers with a complete end-to-end service. Find out more


Talk to our team to find out more! Call: (01908) 915523