3D Data Capture for propellers

3D Data Capture

This article from Naval Technology about 3D data capture is rather interesting. The short version is that the primary maintenance contractor working with the Royal Netherlands Navy, Marinebedrijf Koninklijke Marine, is aggressively adopting 3D scanning.

Marinebedrijf Koninklijke Marine is responsible for maintenance, creating replacement parts for the ships and carrying out modifications to on-board components as required.

Some of the ships they are responsible for pre-date modern CAD systems. The original drawings for various parts could be lost or damaged. Until recently, they have simply taken the part and measured it using a painstaking manual process.

As the article points out, even if a drawing exists, it may not precisely match the real world part.

However, 3D Data Capture solves that rather nicely.

And Then?

But once you’ve scanned the part, then what?

I once worked for a company that integrated paper-based blueprints and architectural drawings with CAD systems. While that process was purely 2D (flat paper drawings), there’s a lot that applies to 3D scanning.

Broadly speaking, there are three steps you need to consider:

  1. How to best scan the original piece/part.
  2. Where and how to store the data.
  3. How to use the data effectively.

In olden times, back when I was scanning large format drawings, the first two steps were in pretty poor shape. Scanning tools were lousy, data storage was relatively expensive and computers were slow.

However, these days the first two steps are straightforward. You have a number of options for 3D scanning objects of almost any size. There are also a variety of tools available for cleaning up and storing 3D data.

But that leaves step 3: How to use the data most effectively.

How to Use the Data Effectively

One interesting use of 3D scanning is the preservation of parts. However, that use case isn’t limited just to the military, or even just to business applications.

You may not be aware of this, but many museums have been implementing comprehensive 3D scanning of their archives. The purpose is two-fold: to make it easier to study the artifacts without transporting them, and also to recreate them. Here’s a great example from the Smithsonian. Be sure to read the text description – it’s a great example of a novel use case. If you want to see more of the Smithsonian’s collection, click here.

The mask in the Smithsonian collection is also a great example of the power of 3D scanning for replication. With the variety of 3D manufacturing tools that are now available, you can recreate most objects. The Smithsonian mask used CNC. Other parts are being recreated with 3D printing. You could use 3D printing to make a mold, and then manufacture the part by a more traditional method, such as casting. Regardless of method, the point is that you can recreate almost any scanned object.

But with today’s tools, there is a whole new set of uses.

New Uses

As the old adage goes, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Given that statement, it’s probably no surprise that I’m going to suggest Extended Reality as an obvious new use for 3D scanned objects.

Let’s focus on Virtual Reality for a moment. Clearly, you can use VR to view a model in 3D. That’s arguably better than viewing a 3D model on a flat screen. But have you considered the ability to display the scanned model at almost any virtual size? If you have a scan of a complex metal part, would it be beneficial for an experienced machinist to be able to crawl inside it? Of course!

What about Augmented Reality? Would it help to see your part placed in a real world environment? For example, will that sculpture you scanned fit in your corner office? Or, more seriously, does part X fit with the real world part Y it should work with?

Once you have good 3D data, you can also start to explore simulation and training. Do you have a complex mechanism that is hard to repair? A device that is dangerous when operated incorrectly? An environment that has restricted access? These are all great opportunities to combine 3D Data Capture and XR tools.