(March 1, 2011) My experience with 3D laser scanning dates back to my days as a project manager with the global toy company LEGO. Three years ago, I switched fields into education, becoming a lecturer at VIA University College in Horsens, Denmark, my native country. Currently I coordinate the Innovation and Product Design curriculum, which is part of the Mechanical Engineering department at VIA.
To train our students we equip our laboratories with scanning equipment, 3D printers, milling machines for model making and the Virtual Clay modeler plus a special classroom equipped with 21 PC’s and all the special software needed. Digital scanning is a vital part of the process for our students, whose goal is to produce original consumer products from raw concept to working prototype. We make sure to teach them classic product development technique, which begins with formulating rough ideas, refining the ideas, them modeling them by hand from traditional materials like wood, paper and clay.
At that point we bring out the 21st-century toolbox. Our degree candidates learn 3D scanning, reverse engineering, upload to Polyworks CAD software, then milling and cutting with CNC machines. The course of study covers half a year of coursework and labs.
We find our students love this process. As instructors, we are often amazed at the speed and quality of their work. Last semester one product concept was handlebars for a mountain bike. The modeling was done in clay and revised until a finished model was produced. Using the Optix laser scanner from 3D Digital Corp., students captured the surface geometry of the model and put it into our CAD system. From there they continue to the stage of a completed prototype.
As I set up the program several years ago I evaluated laser scanners and software packages, looking for quality and affordability. Our short list of scanners came down to a a major competitor unit and the Optix by 3D Digital Corp. We decided Optix was the better choice. It had the advantages of being stationary, accurate enough, fairly easy to operate and well-priced. I knew it would be student-friendly and it has proven to be that. I was hoping it prove durable and its durability has been excellent, especially considering the large number of new users who are operating it year after year.
Out students come from a wide array of European countries, arriving with a fair knowledge of the traditional mechanical calculations long been required for linking three-dimensional objects to CAD platforms. They are usually surprised, very pleasantly, to learn there is such a thing as 3D laser scanning that allows them to reverse-engineer quickly and accurately.
In Europe, a University College is for practical instruction—it’s not the top level of higher learning. Because we offer a rigorous course in reverse engineering using laser scanners, we own a recruitment advantage. It has allowed us to build our program from 18 students two years ago to our current class of 60, which is near the maximum we can accept. Government support for education provides funding based on class size, so more students equals more budget dollars. Obviously the investment in our scanner lab has been valuable for the institution.
Two of our students took their degrees and went to work for a major manufacturer that builds and installs large, custom-designed machines for assembling parts. Installation of these complex machines is difficult, and many times the rooms chosen to hold them have not fit the machine, due to miscalculations. Our graduates, though very junior on their install teams, told their employer that this problem would never occur if they could bring in a 3D scanner to create the plans. No one else at the company knew this, and when the scanning step was added to their process the problem went away. That’s certainly a feather in our cap at VIA, stories such as that.
Kim Rask Petersen, M.Sc Mechanical Engineering
Lecturer in Innovation and Product Design
VIA University College
Campus Horsens, Denmark