Which tools are used in reverse engineering

What is reverse engineering?

Reverse engineering is a process by which the properties of a physical object are identified through a comprehensive analysis of its structure, functions and operations. Measurements of the entire surface geometry of the object are taken, either manually or with various 3D measurement technologies, to create a digital 3D representation of the object.

Reverse engineering enables manufacturers to understand how a part was designed, either to replicate it or to make modifications or improvements.

Reverse engineering is also known as "backward development". The reason? Reverse engineering teams work their way “backwards” through the original design process; they start with the bottom line, disassemble the product, and take ratings and measurements to get the physical design information.


History of reverse engineering

While many people believe that reverse engineering began with the advent of factories in the 18th century, it is not. In fact, reverse engineering has been around since humans began making things like wheels, carriages, and even architectural infrastructures. Reverse engineering - as rudimentary as it was back then - was used to recreate these objects. The dimensions of the objects were recorded either as a whole or in parts and the object was recreated.

The Roman army, which only had its own fleet after the First Punic War, was able to defend itself in 264 BC. Recreate a Carthaginian quinquereme (ancient rowing warship). Thanks to the famous ingenuity of the Romans, they created - and optimized - within three months a fleet of 300 ships capable of surpassing the Carthaginian fleet in number and complicated sea maneuvers.

Reverse engineering techniques have advanced greatly since those past epochs. While reverse engineering began with military applications, it is useful today in many different fields, including manufacturing.

Many different technologies have been used by manufacturers over the years to take the dimensions of an object and import them into CAD software for 3D modeling.

The use of non-contact coordinate measuring machines (CMM), scanning systems and robotic articulated arms in reverse engineering is widespread because they eliminate the problems associated with manual methods. The choice of one 3D metrology technique over another depends on the tolerance values ​​required, the data density and speed, the properties of the part, and the line of sight and ease of use of the device.

Today, manufacturers are increasingly turning to handheld 3D scanners for reverse engineering. The reason? They deliver highly accurate, reliable and repeatable results, just like the technologies mentioned above. However, they are faster. In addition, they are easy to use for users of all skill levels and the 3D data of a part can be recorded directly in the workshop.


When is reverse engineering used?

Reverse engineering is an important process for manufacturers. There are many common uses for reverse engineering.

Reverse engineering is often used when there is limited knowledge about the design of a part, lack of original documentation, or lack of 2D or 3D drawings / CAD models. Reverse engineering is especially important when the design information of a part is only on paper or stored in human memory.

Companies also reverse engineer parts when original equipment manufacturer (OEM) spare parts are not available, either because the OEM no longer makes them or the OEM no longer exists.

Reverse engineering is also used to optimize assemblies for production and to improve products with new functions.

Manufacturers also use reverse engineering techniques to improve a defective part or to reproduce handmade parts or assemblies.

Sometimes reverse engineering is also used simply to build a digital archive of parts or create a virtual environment for future references.


What are the benefits of reverse engineering?

Reverse engineering is important to manufacturers in many ways.

Reverse engineering can reduce the risks associated with outdated and vulnerable products. With reverse engineering, spare parts can be reproduced and defects in products can be identified and rectified.

In addition, reverse engineering can accelerate product innovation. For example, a team of engineers can examine the design of existing products and look for ways to improve their performance, improve functions, or reduce production costs.

Manufacturers use reverse engineering to produce parts quickly instead of buying components from an OEM, which has long lead times and high costs.

Reverse engineering can also be a key strategy as part of a manufacturer's proactive maintenance plan. By reverse engineering critical components before they fail, a manufacturer can keep spare parts in stock and reduce unplanned downtime.


Where is reverse engineering used?

Manufacturers in various industries use reverse engineering processes to optimize their production, gain a competitive advantage and reduce costs. The following are the most common industries that use reverse engineering.

Aerospace Industry

In the aerospace industry, reverse engineering is used to:

  • Perform aerodynamic analyzes
  • Develop maintenance plans for aircraft
  • Add, improve or repair aircraft components
  • Making tools

Automotive industry

Automobile manufacturers often use reverse engineering to:

  • Studying the competitor
  • Digitizing parts of older vehicle models
  • Understand problems with vehicle components
  • Manufacture of spare parts

Tool manufacturer

Tool manufacturers rely on reverse engineering to manufacture the following components:

  • Clamping devices
  • Mounts
  • Matrices
  • Molds
  • Parts for machine tools and cutting tools
  • etc.

Consumer goods

Consumer products manufacturers are turning to reverse engineering to:

  • Develop prototypes quickly
  • Test and validate designs
  • Analyze competitor products
  • Document and archive various design iterations

Art and monument protection

Experts in the field of art and monument protection rely on reverse engineering for:

  • the reconstruction of works of art for educational purposes
  • the digital preservation of visual arts such as paintings, sculptures and ancient archaeological artifacts and historical buildings
  • the restoration of cultural artifacts


Specific application example for reverse engineering

How automakers use reverse engineering

What is the reverse engineering process?

Before starting a reverse engineering project, it's for oneIt is important for the manufacturer to determine his exact needs. Does the manufacturer want to reproduce a component as is, with defects, wear and tear, etc., to analyze why the part is not working, to determine the cause of a problem with an assembly, or to locate an existing tool reproduce?

Or, on the other hand, does a manufacturer want to understand the intent of the design? In this case, reverse engineering would not reproduce the part's defects and signs of wear. Instead, the 3D model of the part would be perfectly reconstructed - all parameters of the object would be corrected.

Next, the manufacturer must decide which 3D metrology to use based on the application and environment in which the data acquisition will take place.

For the purpose of the following explanation, let's assume that the manufacturer opts for a portable 3D scanner. A technician will prepare the part for the scan, depending on the 3D metrology used, then scan the part to be recreated, recording all the dimensions of the part.

After the part has been fully scanned, the resulting STL file (either a mesh or a point cloud) is converted to a Scan-to-CAD software such as VXmodel imported for post-processing. This process cleans up, repairs, and refines the data. In addition, the object is divided into different regions and shapes, which later help with the construction of the 3D model. Ultimately, the post-processing process positions the object in the coordinate system (also known as alignment).

The updated STL file is imported into CAD software that has reverse engineering tools or a standalone reverse solution. A reverse engineering expert or industrial designer can then create the 3D model in its original state or generate the 3D model, make changes and, if necessary, integrate it into an assembly.

The manufacturer can make a prototype of the 3D model by sending it to a 3D printer. Experts can assess whether further work has to be carried out on the 3D model in order to achieve the desired result.

Once the ideal 3D model has been created, the manufacturer can produce the part, either as a single piece or in series.


How does 3D scanning speed up reverse engineering?

In contrast to manual methods and other 3D measurement techniques, portable 3D scanners significantly speed up the reverse engineering process.

First, they are quick to set up and can often be used directly in production. As many manufacturers know, CMM bottlenecks occur regularly, which inevitably leads to delays in any reverse engineering or quality control project. Since 3D scanners are also easy to use, they do not have to be operated by a qualified measuring technician. In today's tight job market, experienced metrologists are hard to find and overloaded with work. 3D scanners that can be operated by users of all skill levels are therefore a viable solution for reverse engineering a part or assembly.

Second, 3D scanners can capture millions of data points per second. Depending on the part, a user can perform a “scan-to-mesh” in a matter of seconds. The speed of 3D scanners can significantly accelerate a manufacturer's reverse engineering workflows.

Third, 3D scanners are highly precise - regardless of the complexity of the geometry or the surface properties of a part. This not only avoids human errors that often occur with manual measurements, but also inefficient back and forth movements in data acquisition and tedious interpretation of the results.


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The future of reverse engineering

The future of reverse engineering looks very bright indeed. The technological innovations in the field of 3D measuring devices and reverse engineering software will make reverse engineering workflows even more efficient and sophisticated as manufacturers strive to increase the effectiveness of their products, develop new solutions and improve their production processes and improve their bottom line.

The importance of reverse engineering in manufacturing is undeniable. It opens the door to unprecedented innovations.