In today’s hypercompetitive market, quality and reliability matter more than ever. Companies need to constantly stay ahead of the competition to ensure their products are produced consistently and accurately in order to preserve and grow the reputation of brands. This means management can’t lag behind when it comes to adopting new tools and technologies to assure quality. Quality control may seem like a time consuming and hands-on process, but advancements in tech have virtually turned it into an exact science.

One of the tools that has emerged as crucial to manufacturers for measurement and inspection is 3D scanning. It’s an effective technique that is trusted for its accuracy, reliability, speed and ease-of-use. Its noncontact nature and exceptional flexibility make it ideal for measuring a wide range of parts in a wide range of industries. Introducing 3D scanning to your quality control toolbox will help streamline inspection processes, saving time and money.

When to Use 3D Scanning for Quality Control
If you haven’t already adopted 3D scanning for quality control strategies, here are a few signs that indicate you might want to dive into the world of scanning:

o You need to measure complex parts
 By measuring every surface at millions of points, 3D scanning makes it easy to measure even very complex shapes.

o You need to measure soft parts
 3D scanning is a contactless process that won’t deform soft parts.

o Measuring parts takes too much time
 3D scanning is exponentially faster at collecting measurements compared to contact-based techniques.

o You need to remeasure parts you don’t have
 When an object is 3D scanned it creates a complete digital record that can be re-measured at any time.

o You’re not sure why some parts fail
 Because 3D scanning measures the entire surface of a part, you’re less likely to miss an unexpected deviation from nominal.

o You think you might be scrapping perfectly good parts
 With a 3D scanner, you have a more complete view of your parts so you can make more informed decisions around if a part is salvageable or not.

o You need to measure things in more places
 Sometimes it’s more efficient to take the measurement tools to the part, rather than the other way around. Scanners and software are easy to use in any environment.

3D scanning comes in many forms to accommodate a wide variety of object sizes. Desktop 3D scanners are stationary and can be used for small plastic parts, engine valves, connectors, electronic components, etc. Handheld 3D scanners are fully mobile and can be used for larger objects, such as compressors, castings, gearboxes, industrial equipment, vehicle interiors and turbines. Lastly, long-range scanners mounted on tripods can capture large structures and objects, such as airplanes, buildings, ships, warehouses, factory floors and more.

Some scanning software can provide basic quality control tools for doing quick quality checks that compare scans against CAD models, or scans against other scans. This can be a major time-saver, enabling quick inspection of parts. For more advanced functionality, scan-native inspection software is needed. It can handle millions of points and manage the unique characteristics of noncontact data. This level of inspection software can display color maps on top of an imported CAD model to show inconsistencies. However, the benefits extend beyond this. It’s common for this type of software to also include advanced deviation analysis features such 3D, 2D cross-section, boundary, along curve, silhouette and virtual edge comparison.

Merging Quality Control & Reverse Engineering
Incorporating 3D scanning into the quality control process also opens up the opportunity for reverse engineering. There are multiple reasons a manufacturer would need to reverse engineer an existing object—from recreating an original item to enhancing designs to creating entirely new products. The process of reverse engineering can help manufacturers improve their production processes and enhance product effectiveness. In fact, the ability to break down an object to see how it was created can often be a capability that an entire business or specific service is based around. This empowers manufacturers to not just find the problem but fix it as well. Design, engineering and quality used to be in siloed departments that barely worked together. This is quickly changing.

Quality is now everyone’s responsibility, from engineer to inspector to business manager. During the quality control process, when an issue is found with a manufactured part, it’s important that the feedback loop goes all the way back to the design of the part. This means making sure the 3D CAD model of that part is updated to match the reality of the part as-manufactured or updated to compensate for process-induced manufacturing errors. With the hybridization of reverse engineering and inspection, it’s easier to make these updates and keep an open feedback loop across departments.

Optimizing Processes
The hybridization of quality control and reverse engineering can be used to optimize a variety of processes. The most typical example is when you have a worn or used component you are capturing digitally, or returning to service, a combination of measurement and analysis alongside scan-based reverse engineering is needed (e.g. tool and die, or precision machined parts primarily).

In many cases of reverse engineering, you can simply choose a style or approach as either "accurate" (a.k.a. as built) or " logical" (a.k.a. design intent), but in cases where surface quality is key, or there is a critical relationship between features on a specific part, deeper analysis and dimensional verification is needed to ensure quality results. Naturally, when a part is being designed from scratch, the designer would apply dimensional controls to the model. When the part is being re-designed from scan data, the same needs apply. When working in the additive manufacturing space and scaling additive manufacturing applications to production, customers are holding the digital design file which they printed. However, with complete 3D shape capture, there are unique opportunities to utilize both. Qualify and inspect a 3D-printed component AND use that information to compensate, or adjust, the model based on the scan data to achieve better results from your printing process.

CAD Reflecting Reality
Another area where quality control and reverse engineering meet are to update CAD models to reflect reality. There are a number of reasons to update a CAD model to ensure it reflects the “as-built” condition of a part. For example, parts that have been cast or rough machined will always deviate from the intended shape due to heat and other stresses on the material, meaning models will need to be updated to reflect how it should be built. For more efficient fine machining or other finishing operations, it’s far better to work off of an accurate model that reflects the real part, rather than an unmodified initial digital model.

You can also go a step further than just updating a 3D model to reflect reality—you can correct for part deformation. Deformations can be caused by the injection molding process or metal stamping springback during the manufacturing process. Almost any type of shape-related deformation can be compensated for in a 3D model after you’ve scanned a part. You can also “overcompensate” and modify the CAD model so that when the deformation occurs, you end up with a part that has the desired geometry. 3D scanning brings the power of reverse engineering to bear on these types of problems. When using 3D scanning in inspection, you gain the ability to measure parts and update or recreate CAD models easily.

The hybridization of reverse engineering and quality control is burgeoning in a handful of industries. Recently, there has been consistent attention from tool and die manufacturers for these workflows. However, the biggest interest is coming from the additive manufacturing and model correction space. Due to the wide variety and options and processes on the market from machine manufacturers and the relative non-uniform processes in the industry as a whole, production customers are deeply involved in process improvement and metrology and model correction are at the core of that. Quality control and reverse engineering can help additive manufacturers reduce process-induced errors while also tuning and modifying build parameters—including position and orientation—to minimize the influence of the process itself on dimensional error. The final death blow to geometric error is informed model correction with manufacturing context and will help businesses ensure their products and parts are of the utmost quality.

Breaking Silos
Combining reverse engineering and inspection is a way to break out of current practices and find new, more efficient methods. It allows for you to think outside-the-box and get creative with problem solving. It also empowers more people to measure things in more places. The possibilities are essentially endless for what you can 3D scan. The most successful companies take their scanners to the parts they need to measure and open up the scanning and software usage to more people in design, engineering, manufacturing and other parts of the business. With such flexibility and broad problem-solving potential, 3D scanning can drive value throughout your business and keep your business on top.