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Laser 3D scanning for fast prototyping of Military systems, reverse engineering, virtual reality, maintenance support and quality control

3D laser scanning is a way to capture a physical object’s exact size and shape into the computer world as a digital 3-dimensional representation. 3D Laser Scanning is a non-contact, non-destructive technology that digitally captures the shape and structure of physical objects in a faster and more accurate way using a line of laser light. 3D laser scanners create “point clouds” of data from the surface of an object.


Lidar, short for light detection and ranging, scans an object in three dimensions by bouncing laser beams off of it and measuring how long they take to return. The technology can stitch together scans from different perspectives to create a millimeter-accurate 3D digital representation of the object. The latest lidar scanning tools can also take photos and overlay them on the data point cloud for a more realistic-looking model.

The process of 3D scanning starts with Data Acquisition where an object that is to be laser scanned is placed on the bed of the digitizer. Specialized software drives the laser probe above the surface of the object. The laser probe projects a line of laser light onto the surface while 2 sensor cameras continuously record the changing distance and shape of the laser line in three dimensions (XYZ) as it sweeps along the object.


The shape of the object appears as millions of points called a “point cloud” on the computer monitor as the laser moves around capturing the entire surface shape of the object. The process is very fast, gathering up to 750,000 points per second and very precise (to ±.0005″). After the huge point cloud data files are created, they are registered and merged into one three-dimensional representation of the object and post-processed with various software packages suitable for a specific application.


Point Cloud Data for Inspection

If the data is to be used for inspection, the scanned object can be compared to the designer’s CAD nominal data. The result of this comparison process is delivered in the form of a “color map deviation report,” in PDF format, which pictorially describes the differences between the scan data and the CAD data.


CAD Model for Reverse Engineering

Laser scanning is the fastest, most accurate, and automated way to acquire 3D digital data for reverse engineering. Again, using specialized software, the point cloud data is used to create a 3D CAD model of the part’s geometry. The CAD model enables the precise reproduction of the scanned object, or the object can be modified in the CAD model to correct imperfections. Laser Design can provide a surface model or the more complex solid model, whichever results are needed for the application.


Military Applications

3D scanning has important applications in military  from  fast prototyping  and reverse engineering to maintenance, crash testing to quality control. Reverse engineering is the process of deconstructing an object to see its design and the manner of how it was assembled. 3D scanning does not only shorten production cycles but it also provides greater cost efficiency. Instead of going under the tedious manufacturing process, it enables the military to produce new weapons or spare parts using cheaper materials.


Keeping its vessels in top condition is a critical aspect of a naval force’s readiness, MKM has turned to Artec 3D, a company that produces 3D scanners for a project to scan the entire Dutch Navy in 3D. “If you need to add anything to a military ship or plane – such as new seating or cupboards – the fastest and most accurate way to get the measurements would be to scan the areas,” Vakulenko said.


It is useful in reproducing individual parts of older military equipment, especially if the manufacturer does not produce the model any longer. Preparing a digital copy of weapons would be very helpful as well especially in combat zones. In case a component broke and there’s no spare part in place, the digital format would be very handy. 3D scanning is also useful for support; military ships are normally located quite far from their base, so in cases when technical support is needed, this is usually performed remotely. The area in question is often 3D scanned, so that the support engineer can better view the problem.


3D scanning can also play a role in supporting the building of new equipment through the process called rapid prototyping. This method is used to quickly fabricate an object using a three-dimensional computer-aided design data. With 3D scanned images in place, it will be easier for the development team to explore the latest concepts. This is especially helpful when the military is developing new equipment.


During the weapon’s first article inspection — or the process wherein the object’s design is verified — 3D scanning can also play a significant part.  By getting the equipment’s data points, manufacturers can spot right away any inaccuracies and therefore, minimizing defects during mass production. “When you build any large object, be it a military plane or ship, the slight inaccuracies that occur during construction build up quite significantly, so the difference in the length of two ships of the same design could be several meters,” Vakulenko said. “So the only real way to know the exact size and shape of the ship would be to 3D scan it.”


3D scanners are an important tool for quality control  and inspection. the physical part can be 3D scanned to create a digital model. The digital model of the scanned part and the digital model used to create the part can then be compared to ensure that the component meets the required specifications.


Furthermore, 3D scanning is also commonly used for crash testing, both as part of a standard procedure to analyse the structure of an object and how to improve it so that it can better withstand a crash scenario, and in the case of real crashes so as to document what happened.


The 3D scanner market is expected to grow from USD 3.41 Billion in 2016 to USD 5.90 Billion by 2023, at a CAGR of 7.8% during the forecast period. The 3D scanning is a huge market that is gaining attention due to the increase in demand media, aerospace, medical infrastructure throughout the globe.


US Navy using 3D Scanning from virtual and mixed reality to Battle Damage Assessment

lidar-generated 3D models have become a priority for the Navy fleet. Program Executive Office Integrated Warfare Systems issued a memo in 2021 directing installation and modernization teams to perform lidar scans, when the technology is available, of areas they work on aboard Navy ships.


U.S. Navy engineers used 3-D imaging capabilities of LIDAR technology to measure designated spaces on board the USS San Diego (LPD 22), USS Truxtun (DDG 103), and the USS Anchorage (LPD 23) down to the exact millimeter, according to a SPAWAR media report. Then, virtual reality and virtual environment software processed the hundreds of gigabytes worth of scanned data into a less than one hundred gigabyte file of a virtual reality model of the scanned areas.


Once the model was created, sailors could don the virtual reality goggles head piece and virtually navigate through a remote part of the ship. “In addition to using these scans for installations…sailors can now train ‘virtually’ on their ship, in their exact spaces, with their exact equipment because of these scans,” explained Heidi Buck, Director of Battlespace Exploitation of Mixed Reality Lab. “Also new systems can be prototyped and inserted into the ‘virtual’ ship environment for design and testing purposes.”


The LIDAR system uses a special, near-infrared laser that emits electromagnetic pulses in the form of light and measures the return wavelengths to discern the distance and 3D shape of objects in its path. SPAWAR reports that the 3-D scanning team used commercial-off-the-shelf technology and software to ensure state-of-the-art results. “LIDAR technology requires only a small team of two to three people who know the equipment and can create an accurate…virtual 3-D representation of a ship’s installation compartment,” said Lt. Jessica Fuller, a member of the SPAWAR 3-D scanning team.


The next goal is to be able to input the scan data into augmented reality software, which will allow sailors to access 3-D augmented reality maps and scans while on the job, giving the sailors a mobile capability to better understand and maintain the ship, according to Dr. Mark Bilinski, a Mathematician at SPAWAR.


Battle Damage Assessment

Navy tested a new use for lidar scanning and 3D ship models—assessing battle damage in 2022. The static detonation training event in late March, in which an explosive charge was placed aboard the ship for the purpose of damaging it, and the upcoming evolution are critical pieces of a lidar-focused megaproject funded by the Naval Innovative Science and Engineering (NISE) program. As part of the project, multiple warfare centers are working together to build 3D models of entire ships from lidar scans, aiming to expand the use of those models to battle damage assessment and repair as well as to installation and modernization, and other fleet applications.

“These training events with the decommissioned ship are really great opportunities for the lidar megaproject,” said Patrick Violante, team lead for the Advanced Data Acquisition, Prototyping Technologies and Virtual Environments Lab at Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC), Philadelphia Division (PD), one of the megaproject partners. “We want to show that we can quickly capture the damage, overlay it on the baseline model, document the condition accurately and then share the data with the larger community to make engineering decisions.”

The effort comes at a time of increased options and affordability for lidar scanning tools. By harnessing the technology to build more 3D ship models, the lidar megaproject partners aim to reduce the need for engineering teams to travel to ships, enable more remote support such as virtual ship checks, and shorten response times to casualties and maintenance issues the fleet experiences at sea.

“You can’t send the ship to people, but you can send the 3D model to people,” said Ken Nahshon, a research engineer who focuses on ship damage from weapons effects at NSWC Carderock Division (CD) in West Bethesda, Maryland, another megaproject partner.


The Royal Netherlands Navy is 3D scanning all their ships for maintenance

Marinebedrijf Koninklijke Marine is responsible for maintaining the vessels of Royal Netherlands Navy as well as creating new parts for the ships to replace damaged parts, and carrying out modifications to on-board components when required, from everything to the hull to weapons systems and engines.


“Now, even when there is no 3D data or drawings of a part, we’re able to use an Artec 3D scanner to create a 3D image of the object, and the scan is used to reverse engineer the object. That part is then replicated using 3D printing techniques, 3-5 axis milling or 3D welding. “In most cases, parts for the ships are being reverse engineered or newly created; this is especially the case in older navy vessels where the suppliers of the components no longer exist.”


The Artec Eva and Spider 3D handheld scanners used for this project are structured light scanners. The scanners work by projecting light in a grid pattern onto an object, which allows them to capture the deformation or distortion from multiple angles and then calculate the distance to specific points on the object using triangulation. These coordinates are used to produce a three-dimensional digital model.


“Using 3D scanning has saved us up to weeks of work – older processes were very intensive requiring multiple types of measuring tools and then replicating the drawing into a CAD programme,” says Ben Jansen, CNC coordinator at Marinebedrijf Koninklijke Marine.


Further down the line, Artec 3D is looking to tap in to the move toward 3D printing and its application for military support on the move. “When 3D printing takes off fully we expect that all large ships will have 3D scanners and 3D printers on board so that parts can be 3D scanned and then 3D printed on the spot,” Vakulenko said. “For large, sea-based vessels, this will really be an ideal solution – it will be far quicker than waiting for replacement parts to be sent from the repair base.


“At the moment, quite a few small parts can be 3D printed in durable plastic and used with great success, but the real breakthrough will come when 3D printers can achieve the same level of quality in metal.”


Army Wants To 3-D Scan Recruits’ Bodies To Build Better Armor

Digital body scanners are being adopted by the military for collecting body size data, and for automated size issuing. There is a hope that body scanner data could be used to create 3D clothing patterns for on-the-spot mass customization.


In 2014, New York-based startup Body Labs revealed the body-scanned future of the United States Army. In a two-year contract worth more than $900,000, the company will provide detailed 3-D models of thousands of soldiers, as well the tools to dress, pose, and animate those avatars.


By converting the Army’s current database of roughly 12,000 body scans–taken from soldiers during an 18-month study—into more detailed 3-D body models, the Pentagon should be able to run virtual gear through various simulations before actually manufacturing it. And rather than testing and building for an average-size soldier, the models would allow for analyses that more accurately reflect the diverse physicality among the branch’s more than one million active and reserve-duty personnel. Will a new backpack snag less often when a particularly tall wearer is jumping in and out of a tank? Will a redesigned kevlar vest jam into a shorter soldier’s neck when he’s crouching?


Around half of the body scans that the Army turned over to Body Labs are of women. As of right now, the Army doesn’t provide gender-specific body armor to its personnel. So female soldiers are forced to make do with protective gear that was designed for men.


The goal is to find a balance between accommodating the variety of physiques found in the branch, and keeping manufacturing costs under control. “What number of sizes need to be created to fit this entire breadth of our population well?” says O’Farrell. “That woud be the first question. Then you might ask, if we either cut the number of sizes, or increase the coverage by, say, half an inch, maybe the fit goes to down from 99 to 94 percent, but we can save X number of sizes and Y dollars. And, frankly, that’s a calculation that apparel companies make all the time.”


Using technology developed at Brown University and the Max Planck Institute, Body Labs employs what it calls point-to-point correspondence. “We say, here is the body that corresponds to that point cloud. We look at the human body now as a digital platform. We can recreate a specific person, or a prototypical human being, as a 3-D avatar, in a way that computers can understand,” says O’Farrell.


Body Labs has also developed a tool that can map its models to existing motion-capture data. So a test subject wearing a capture rig, similar to what actors wear for movies and video games, could record specific maneuvers, which could then be applied to different model sizes and genders.


FARO 3D Scanner

FARO®‘s latest ultra-portable FocusS Laser Scanner series enable to capture fast, straightforward and accurate measurements of complex objects and buildings. A built-in 8 mega-pixel, HDR-camera captures detailed imagery easily while providing a natural color overlay to the scan data in extreme lighting conditions. Familiar traits such as light weight, small size and a 4.5-hour battery runtime per charge makes the FocusS Laser Scanner truly mobile for fast, secure and reliable scanning.


FARO Focus Laser Scanners, which are currently used by several law enforcement agencies to document crime scenes in 3D. This 3D scanning technology, able to make 800,000 3D measurements per second, could also be used on the battlefield for extremely detailed mapping and route-making.


3D laser scanning can record crime scene data in just 40 minutes, and “scans everything,” even bullet trajectories and bloodstain patterns, according to FARO Technologies official Dennis Sweet. Additionally, there is less room for human error with 3D scanning, and scans can yield more information at a later date if officials need to go back and check something.


However, while Staff Sgt. Christopher Schultz said that FARO Focus lasers are not used in a warfighting capacity yet, they could eventually be mounted onto robots or vehicles for mapping, as the 3D scanners can take 3D images on a truck going 55 mph, or even in total blackness.

Universities Partner to Develop Software for 3D Scanning Urban Infrastructure

Managing infrastructure is a challenge that takes a great deal of time, resources, and money. The faster a problem with a building or road is detected, the easier it is to address, but when you’re managing an entire city, that’s easier said than done.  A group of specialists from Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University, East China Normal University, and the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee are working together to develop software that will create detailed 3D models of urban infrastructure objects using a combination of laser scanning and photography.


The team is developing software that will process raw data of laser scans, creating point clouds from the scan data. The researchers will create the image projections and combine them with photography data, which significantly improves the segmentation quality of the point clouds created from the laser scanning. Using those projections allows for the display of all 3D data on the monitor and improves the quality and processing speed. It also helps to adjust the required display scale of the object and to obtain the most accurate image, without shadows.


In cooperation with our foreign colleagues, we analyze the point clouds, obtained by laser scanner survey technologies and develop the software that enables to recognize the particular features of the materials, the texture of the objects and its changes,” said Vladimir Badenko, a professor in the Institute of Civil Engineering at Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University. “Our developments can be used for monitoring and repair of the road infrastructure, as well as on the preservation of objects of cultural and historical heritage.”


Much of the data in the 3D scanning project is being processed at the Supercomputer Center at Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University.


3D scanning market

North America has become one of the most influential markets in the 3D scanning vertical. The Asia Pacific region is anticipated to witness immense growth opportunities from industrial manufacturing and architectural sectors over the forecast period.


North America is expected to emerge as one of the leading regional markets, owing to the rising R&D spending coupled with the high adoption of 3D scanning technology in the automotive sector and environmental scanning and modeling operations.


The Asia Pacific region is expected to witness substantial growth over the forecast period during 2017 to 2022. This region has witnessed high penetration of 3D scanners due to the growing adoption rate in infrastructure projects and rising disposable incomes in economies such as China and India.

The major participants in the 3D scanning market include Faro Technologies, Inc., Creaform Inc., Direct Dimensions Inc., GOM mbH, Konica Minolta, Inc., 3D Digital Corporation, Autodesk Inc., 3D Systems, Inc., ShapeGrabber and Maptek Pty Ltd. among others.



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