We’ve come a long way since the fax machines of the early 1980s. These amazing devices would scan a page of text and/or images, one line at a time, and transmit data down the telephone line. Waiting at the other end was someone watching in fascination as the needle on the receiving fax machine danced speedily across the page, faithfully reproducing the original document line by line.


What is a 3D laser scanner?

Today, 3D laser scanners can capture the three-dimensional contours of a physical object using a single line of laser light. These 3D laser scanners produce a “point cloud” of data to create a digital representation of the object’s exact size and shape. This process can accumulate data at a speed of 750,000 points per second at a precision of =+/- 0.0005 inches.


What are the applications for 3D laser scanner output?

Point cloud data may be used for inspection

Here, the data from the scanned object is compared to the CAD designer’s original representation. Differences between the scanned data and the original design are used to produce a color map deviation report to pictorially describe the differences between the CAD data and the scan data.


Scan data can be used for reverse engineering

Point cloud data can be used to create a 3D model of an object’s geometry. The scanned object may then be successfully reproduced or the CAD model may be tweaked to correct imperfections.


What industries benefit from 3D laser scanning?


The aerospace industry was one of the first to benefit from 3D laser scanning technology, and it remains a major consumer. It is used in design, inspection, manufacturing (part location), analysis and plant engineering.



Orthotics, implants, prosthetics, or any item that needs to conform to the contours of a patient’s body may be improved by using this technology. The laser scanner creates a faithful digital image of the body part from which a CAD model may be created.



3D laser scanning technology was recently used in Santa Clara County to produce a picture of a crime scene where the sheriff’s department was investigating a homicide. The scanner enabled the collection of a vast amount of data in a short period of time. The same task would have taken weeks or even months to complete manually. The device was used to map the inside of the home, as well as the three and a half acres surrounding it.

The scan station has been used in other crimes in the San Francisco Bay Area and has even been used to recreate the assassination of JFK. It is used to capture images of traffic accidents so that law enforcement agencies may open roads to traffic much sooner than they could without the technology.