Manufacturers and fabrication companies have lately been using 3D laser scanners to solve engineering challenges of all types. It’s a natural trend given the prevalence of computer-aided design (CAD) and computer numerical controlled (CNC) machine tools. Scanning objects in three dimensions and capturing the surface configurations as digital files allows a manufacturer to load his CAD and CNC software with the exact proportions and shapes of an object to be modified, copied, tested, or specially packaged.

A three-dimensional laser scanner can also expedite fabrications that use more traditional or even artisan techniques. A craftsman, for example, could employ his 3D laser scanner to capture the entire surface area and all markings of a single, handmade object, so as to easily produce it in large quantities.

The Houston-based manufacturer Atlas Industrial serves customers in many industrial markets, from aerospace to automotive to utilities. A common problem for the company is working with products for which there are no drawings. One customer wanted to move valuable used parts and components on wooden pallets and insisted they be protected from contact with any firm or abrasive surface. This required foam linings that fit each component snugly. To create these linings, Atlas turned to 3D laser scanning, contacting 3D Digital Corp. in Connecticut and ordering its EScan unit, with which Atlas was able to create perfectly sized and contoured linings.

For a company in Montana, Y’s Engineering, 3D laser scanning became a superior way to build premium surfboards. It was possible, with the help of taped markings, for the 3D laser scanner to capture surface data of the surfboard blank’s extremely flat, polished surface. The next step is using 3D laser scanning software to align the sections and merge them. A sister company to Y’s Engineering, Blue Sky Aviation, used the 3D laser scanner to streamline its custom-assembly of small airplanes. The planes’ engine parts are quite complex, which puts a premium on the accuracy of the EScan system for 3D laser scanning.

Blue Rhino Studio, a specialty fabricator in Minnesota, has used 3D laser scanning to advance the world of arts and sciences. Its contract with the Field Museum in Chicago, one of America’s leading natural-history museums, required Blue Rhino to help create a traveling exhibit called “Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age.” That meant building life-size replicas of the skeletons and casts in the museum’s permanent exhibit.

Prior to adoption of the 3D laser scanning technology, the company would create such replicas by hand-carving gray sculpture foam, working to scale. It turned to 3D laser scanning as a way to switch from the extremely expensive sculpture foam to an inexpensive material, extruded polystyrene. Because of 3D laser scanning Blue Rhino needed only to hand-sculpt small models for approval by the museum paleontologists. Once the OK is given the figures are divided into parts for 3D laser scanning, and each part is assembled from a cluster of CNC-milled strips or chunks.

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