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Choosing Between a 3D Scanning System or Building a 3D Scanner Option

Posted By Thomas Tong on May 17, 2012 at 12:00 PM

There are two options to consider when selecting the right 3D scanner for your application and scanning needs.

OPTION 1: Complete 3D Scanning System

Most people should select this option since it is a faster and easier way to get started on 3D scanning.

The 3D scanning system consists of:
1) Capturing Unit: Hardware equipment that captures all the necessary information from the physical environment to generate a 3D scan

2) 3D Scanning Software: Scanning engine that runs the 3D scanner

Photo: The HDI 3D Scanner is a completed 3D scanning system.

Complete scanning systems are generally characterized as having reliability and repeatable accuracy in an easy to setup and use package. 3D scanning systems have undergone rigorous research and development to make sure it is built to maximize its scanning potential. As a result, complete systems are generally more expensive than building a 3D scanner option.

OPTION 2: Building a 3D scanner

There are companies that offer 3D scanning software for users who want to build their own scanners. This is normally a lower cost option to get started on 3D scanning. Users source their own hardware components such as a light source (ie. projector), machine vision equipment (ie. camera(s) and lens(es)), and a mounting system to build a capturing unit. A computer is required to run the 3D scanning software.

Photo: FlexScan3D Software is a development option for users who want to build their own scanner using their own hardware

It is an opportunity for users to build a custom 3D scanner according to their own specifications. The drawback is it requires a lot more time to build the scanner and to get it up and running compared to a ready-to-use system. Users who go with this option are willing to experiment in order to get good results. Usually the more time you spend to learn the technology, the better the results will be.

Building a 3D scanner is not suitable for everyone. Here are some questions to determine if this option is right for you:

Questions to Consider When Deciding Whether Building a Scanner is Right for You

Do you have the time to build a 3D scanner?
This option is a lower cost option to 3D scanning so it requires the user to have patience and the willingness to experiment to achieve great results. The time it takes to build a scanner largely depends on the user’s technical knowledge and background. If you need to get started on 3D scanning very quickly or if you have a tight timeline to get objects scanned, it is best to go with a complete 3D scanning system.

Do you have technical resources to build your own scanner?
Building your own 3D scanner requires a level of technical expertise. Having an engineering or scientific background is strongly recommended. An interest in photography and cameras also helps in the scanner development process. While building your own scanner can save some money in upfront costs, it is very difficult to troubleshoot problems with a technical support specialist remotely since users build their own scanner using custom mounts and their own equipment. Purchasing a completed 3D scanner might seem like a more expensive option but it save valuable time and headaches along the way.

Can you source your own equipment?
When purchasing 3D scanning software, it will come with a list of equipment that the 3D scanning software will support. You will have to spend time researching on selecting which hardware components will work for your scanning needs and purchasing your own equipment. Some companies will also offer standard hardware components for purchase.

Do you need flexible 3D scanning capabilities?
Users who build their own scanner typically are looking to scan various types of objects and need a flexible scanning solution for this purpose. Building a 3D scanner is a good option because they can change the scanner setup to accommodate different scan projects. Typically if you are looking to scan similar types of objects approximately the same size, it is recommended that you go with a complete 3D scanning system because you will have to invest a lot more time to build your own scanner.

Do you want to manufacture your own 3D scanners for OEM applications?
The scanner development option is great for companies who want to develop a dedicated 3D scanner for a specific application. This will require more advanced technical expertise to build the first prototype. Once R&D is invested to build the prototype, the scanner can be manufactured in volume. If your project requirements are very specific and you don’t have time and the technical resources to do it yourself, you can consider hiring a contractor to build a dedicated scanner for you.

Which Option is Right for Me?

If you are a company that needs to accomplish a specific goal in a limited time, going with a complete 3D scanner would be the best option. A complete system has reliable accuracy and performance and it is relatively easy to set up and use. If you are in an organization with a special focus on research and development and have the time and willingness to experiment with 3D scanning then possibly building a 3D scanner using 3D scanning software would be the more suitable option.

Every project has its own set of requirements. Selecting which option to go with is largely dependent on a variety of factors including time, technical resources, project requirements, and budget. It’s always important to talk to 3D scanning specialists about your requirements to determine which option is suitable for you.

This blog post was previously posted on Thu, May 17, 2012 on 3D3 Solutions blog. LMI Technologies acquired 3D3 Solutions on May 1, 2013. 3D3 Solutions website will be redirected to LMI Technologies website. Please note that LMI Technologies no longer sells FlexScan3D Software as a separate software package. FlexScan3D software is the 3D scanning engine for HDI 3D Scanners.

Posted by Thomas Tong