Jan 11, 2011

One-horse-wagonWhen amusement parks, museums, zoos, and resorts need large-scale character figures, they look to our company, the Weber Group, to build them. The finished products are installed to attract and delight paying customers, though few visitors would guess how much technology and engineering goes into these massive recreations of Snoopy, a pioneer horse team or reproduction terra cotta warriors from a Chinese emperor’s tomb site.

Accuracy and highest-quality fabrication are required by our clients, some of whom place orders for pieces that rise 65 feet in height. However it is the work we do creating branded characters from licensor studios like United Artists that is perhaps the most exacting. Large-format custom cutting had been done in the past without the help of 3D digital scanning, but our efficiency and quality have greatly improved since the addition of an eScan laser scanner from 3D Digital Corp.

Without a doubt our eScan laser scanner is an incredible time-saver. In the past, when a customer would send us a maquette (a small scale model or rough draft of an unfinished architectural work or sculpture) we prepared ourselves for extensive measurements and hand work to scale that model up as a faithful reproduction. Several years ago, in my role as 3-D modeler at Weber Group, I began to look at 3-dimensional scanning as a means of streamlining our design-build process while bolstering our quality control.

Anyone with a CNC machine who builds from 3D models is in dire need of 3D scanning capabilities, whether they know it or not. Once we had our eScan unit installed and working, it was hard to imagine not having it. It’s the classic case of acquiring a tool and right away wondering how you ever managed to get along without it.

At first my research into 3D scanner units was discouraging. The prices were prohibitive and there were lots of functional limitations. I was faced with having to recommend investments of $30,000 to $40,000 in order to bring this technology into our shop—not a viable option. Then I became aware of 3D Digital and eScan, priced in the $7,000 range. I was encouraged not only by the pricing but by the company’s longevity and solid reputation. For a product that needs support and for which you’ll likely want upgrades, this is vital. Most of the high-priced scanner suppliers I had looked at in the beginning are not even in business now.

One of the first benefits I noticed was the translation between the eScan scanner and our CNC machine, which is truly seamless. For one job, a Snoopy figure, United Artists supplied me with an artist’s maquette that was not the exact pose needed for the scaled-up figure. However, I was able to purchase a $3 Snoopy toy in the correct pose, scan it, submit the file and get it quickly approved. Brand standards are stringent about proportions and shapes, but with scanner technology I know what I send them is spot-on. There is great ease of use with eScan—carrying my laptop and the scanner into our main studio I can scan a human-size object in one morning, if I need to.

For a small additional investment we have upgraded our eScan to higher-resolution captures. Again, the result is great accuracy and even less finish work, especially on the peripheral geometry of complex pieces like a pioneer wagon and horse team. Our next upgrade will be a higher-resolution lens, and at that point we will be accurate up to two-thousandths of an inch, which the human eye basically can’t detect.