Creaform – Scan your way to success

Posted on July 30th, 2009. Posted In Hardware Review

A couple of weeks ago, I was visited by Daniel Brown of Creaform. He flew in to demo one of their scanners for me. While I was familiar with them somewhat, it was good to have another up close and personal viewing.

Daniel took some time to go over Creaform’s 3D Laser scanner product line, then set about showing me what the scanner he brought could do. Initially, I’d wanted him to scan in one of the smaller parts we design, but he was quite up front about the limitation of the scanner; in this case, small parts. The particular part is around 3 x 1 x 1/2, with a compound curve and some tiny ribs. It was mostly the ribs that would cause the issue, but the dimensions of the part were under the minimum recommended limit (~6″) as well.

Daniel started off by scanning in a mask he brought. While not your typical reverse engineering application, it did a great job of showing how well the scanner picked up the smallest details. The colors and texture of the mask came through very nicely. It was pretty impressive compared to what I’ve seen in the past.

Next, he scanned part of a container that Ultimate Survival makes. This was a much larger piece than the mask, but not as complex. As with the mask, the scanner brought in the color and texture nicely. The acquisition software, which comes with the scanner, made it easy to fill in the data that the scanner couldn’t pick up. (For those of you unfamiliar with scanning, areas of high reflectivity tend to not get picked up by the scanner. Typically, when dealing with shiny surfaces, you’ll powder them to lessen the shininess.)

Now here’s the good thing. Back when I last reviewed a scanner, you needed a third-party software to translate the captured data so that you could use it in SolidWorks. With the improvements to ‘Scan to 3D’, that need is, partially, gone. From the acquisition software, you can have an optimized surface. You can use a 3rd party software to further things along, but the optimized surface gets you what you need if you’re just interested in the overall shape of the object you’ve scanned. Should the need arise, you can add to said surface.

From what I understood, most people who are scanning are doing so just for the data, so the need for additional software isn’t there. If, however, you wanted to scan in your ’34 Chevy Roadster to redesign that bad boy, then you may want to make a further investment.

As it is, Creaform’s scanners will run you from $40k-$75k depending on the model. They all come with the acquistion software and training. I can definitely see how handy one of these scanners would be if you, or your company, did a lot of reverse engineering. They are great tools. Daniel told me that they’ve scanned the nose cone of a 737 and cars with them. They’re also popular with prosthetic manufacturers. It allows them to accurately create custom prosthetic, reducing patients discomfort greatly.

All-in-all, I was impressed by the scanner. The technology has come a long way since I last reviewed one. It’d be nice to see the price come down in the future, otherwise my boss is never going to approve my request.