Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Reverse Engineering Aircraft with 3D Scanners

I’m going to change things up this week. It occurred to me that I haven’t written about 3D scanning yet, and every now and then I like to highlight some of the cool things people are doing with our technology. So this week, I combined both of those ideas.

You probably know that we have a line of handheld 3D laser scanners called ZScanners. One of those scanners, the ZScanner 700 PX, is able to scan very large objects, like airplanes, trains, trucks, buildings… you get the idea. It can do this because AICON photogrammetric software is built into the system.

M7 Aerospace, located in San Antonio, TX, USA, uses this scanner to capture precise, 3D data of entire planes, down to one-thousandth of an inch. Recently they scanned the entire surface of a Fairchild Metroliner in a resolution of 0.1 mm in three days. If you’re not familiar with aircraft, the Fairchild Metroliner is a 19-seat commuter-class, turbo prop aircraft with a 57-foot wingspan. Then the folks at M7 used the engineering data they captured with the scanner to reverse-engineer components that were originally designed during the 2D era (before 3D CAD was readily available) that needed retrofitting and repair.

M7 Aerospace also maintains and modifies legacy aircraft for the US military and foreign governments. They told us that older, yet still viable, aircraft sometimes perform modern roles and need to be modified with ballistic blankets, avionics upgrades and external sensors for missile defense systems. Those types of modifications can be expensive and take an incredibly long time without precise data, which is often missing because the original design documents are gone or because of variations in an aircraft due to factors like wear and tear. The scanner enables them to capture the precise engineering data they need to repair, modify or retrofit any plane they come across and keep a detailed design template for any plane of the same design.

I think this is a pretty interesting use of technology, even if you’re not an aircraft buff. What do you think? Were you aware of 3D scanning? Do you use it yourself and have an interesting story to share? I look forward to your feedback.


  1. I am an aircraft buff! I was at the EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh and I spoke to several fabricators of parts for antique airplanes,home-builts and certified aircraft. They were making everything from castings, brackets to stamped (formed) sheet metal.

    I explained the way a physical part could be scanned using the Z Scanner, and a complete CAD solid model created for import into Solidworks, using Rapidform.

    They were hungry for this Reverse Engineering capability, and several asked me where is your booth. I told them -- "no booth, this is what I do for fun"

  2. The reverse engineering cad has so many and helpful features and is using in many fields of life.

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