Can 3D Printers Scan Objects?

The art of 3D printing is becoming more and more popular all over the world. Some are used in a commercial setting to create intricate 3D objects whereas others are found in the homes of hobbyists who like to create their own 3D objects for fun. Many people wonder if a 3D printer can scan an object and print an exact copy of it.

A 3D printer itself can’t scan objects. However, you can use a 3D scanner in sync with a 3D printer to create the print that you’re looking for. A 3D scanner can save a lot of work on the design front if you are looking to recreate something specific.

3D scanning and printing are very modern techniques for creating things and there are a lot of benefits to choosing this type of manufacturing. This article will highlight everything you need to know about 3D printing and scanning, how it works, and some of the main benefits of 3D printing and scanning. Let’s dive right in…

What Exactly Is 3D Printing?

On a basic level, 3D printing is a manufacturing process that involves layering materials to form a three-dimensional object. 3D printers can create objects with a variety of materials including plastic and metal and they have the ability to turn digital files into three-dimensional physical objects.

The process of 3D printing is usually done through computer-aided design. The printer will read the digital file and create a solid 3D print of it.

The digital file used for 3D prints can come from a 3D scanned object. 3D scanning allows you to create a precise scan of the surfaces and volume of an object and this data is then fed through to the printer where a new copy of that scanned object can be printed.

The Benefits Of 3D Printing

There are many great benefits to 3D printing in comparison to traditional manufacturing methods. These benefits are related to time, cost, design, and much more. Below is a list of the main advantages of 3D printing:

  • It speeds up the process of prototyping dramatically
  • You can print things on demand
  • You can create complex and flexible designs
  • You can create things using strong and lightweight parts
  • The design and production is super fast
  • You can easily minimize waste
  • It is very cost-effective
  • 3D printers are becoming very easily accessible
  • 3D printing is more environmentally friendly than most traditional methods

What Is 3D Scanning?

3D scanning is a non-contact method of digitally capturing the shape of a physical item by using a line of laser light. The 3D scanner will create points of data that register where the surface of an object lies. This means that 3D scanning can capture the exact size and shape of an item and transfer it to a computer as a 3D digital version.

A 3D scanner measures the intricate details and will capture the free-form shapes of an object to create extremely accurate data. 3D scanning is perfect for measuring and inspecting very detailed and complex contoured surfaces that require a very large amount of data to create an accurate digital description.

Traditional methods can sometimes make it almost impossible to create a digital image of objects that have very complex geometries. This is where a 3D scanner becomes very beneficial.

How Does A 3D Scanner Work?

There are a number of different methods of 3D scanning. Each method works by creating digital data relating to the physical geometrics of an object. Each method, although similar, achieves this in a different way. The list below explains how each type of 3D scanning works:

Laser 3D Scanning Technique

Laser 3D scanning is the most popular type of scanning technique. This involves digitally capturing the shape of something by using laser light to create a digital representation of the object. This type of 3D scanner is able to capture very fine details of an object and can capture free-form shapes to generate very accurate data files.

This type of 3D scanning is perfect for inspecting and measuring very complex objects. It allows you to get the exact measurements and data that you wouldn’t be able to get with traditional methods.

The scanner uses a laser light similarly to a camera in the way that it can only capture what is within its field of view. With this type of scanning process, a laser line or dot is projected onto something from the device and then a sensor measures the distance to the surface of this object. The scanner will then process this data and a CAD model can be created.

Structured Light Scanning Technique

With the structured light 3D scanning technique, one of the camera scanning positions is replaced by a projector. This projector projects a variety of light patterns onto the surface of the object that is being scanned. The device then records the way the object distorts these light patterns and this allows it to create a 3D scan of the object.

The 3D structured light scanning process is best used for facial or environment recognitions.

Photogrammetry Technique

Photogrammetry is a type of science that allows you to create 3D models from photographs. It does this by using the parallax of a number of different images of the object taken from different points of view.

Photogrammetry imitates the stereoscopy of a human’s vision and it is used to get all of the information of an existing physical object. This process collects the data that relates to the volume, depth, and shape of the object that you are scanning.

This method is used to turn several images of an object into an accurate 3D design of the said object. It doesn’t offer the most accurate results. However, if you invest in some good photogrammetry software you could reach a fairly satisfying result that represents that actual object quite accurately.

The Benefits Of 3D Scanning

There are several benefits to 3D scanning including speed, production, and ease. Below is a list of the main advantages of using a 3D scanner with your 3D printer:

  • You can very quickly capture all of the measurements of any physical object
  • You can save a lot of time in design work
  • 3D scanning ensures that parts will fit together on the first try
  • You can compare “as designed” models to “as built” conditions of already manufactured parts
  • You can utilize modern manufacturing on parts that were originally manufactured using a more traditional method
  • You can capture engineering optimizations that are inherent in manufactured parts
  • It increases the effectiveness of working with complex shapes of parts
  • It allows you to replace older objects with new ones that are exactly the same
  • It allows you to create complete replicas of intricately designed objects
  • It allows for fast and comprehensive quality control
  • It makes the prototype process much faster
  • It gives you the ability to remanufacture parts without needing computer-aided design
  • There is no contact involved with the object

Final Thoughts

As you can see, 3D printing is a very exciting and productive type of technology. While you can’t use a 3D printer itself to scan an object, there are many 3D scanners out there that can do the trick.

3D scanners are the best option for those who want to create very specific designs that are an exact copy of something that already exists. As you can imagine, 3D scanning and printing are becoming increasingly popular in the manufacturing world. However, it is also becoming more and more popular with hobbyists who like to create their own 3D printed objects.

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