Quality sat down with Michael Raphael, CEO & President, Direct Dimensions Inc., to learn more about the varied applications for advanced 3D scanning. He will be speaking at The Quality Show South coming up this May in Nashville. His session is called Advanced 3D Scanning Systems for Part Modeling and Inspection

Quality: So can you tell us a little bit more about the topic and how you decided to speak about it?

Michael: My company is called Direct Dimensions. We're out in the East Coast and Baltimore area. And we are all about the world of what's called 3D scanning. So I like to set the stage for folks that maybe aren't familiar with 3D scanning. Maybe they are, maybe they're not. But everybody's familiar with 3D printing. It's been around a long time, and pretty much everybody I talk to these days is familiar.

And everybody realizes, I think, for the most part, that 3D printing is all about taking things from the computer in the digital form and making them physical. That's the essence of why you would 3D print something, to make it physical. 3D scanning is kind of the opposite. We take things that are already in the physical world, and we digitize them using a whole bunch of equipment, and we convert the physical into digital in the computer. And sometimes that is for 3D printing.

But there are a lot of other applications and reasons for doing this, including many serious industrial applications that we'll talk about. Great, that sounds good. As you're talking, I'm just remembering the CMSC session I saw a few years ago, where you were talking about some movie applications and other things, but that makes sense. Our audience is more industrial manufacturing related. I'll cover that as well. The industrial things can be a little, not say boring, but of course they're interesting to many people, but everybody gets excited when we talk about the Hollywood work that we've done and some especially for us, is we get to go places, amazing places, and see and work with amazing projects and all kinds of different things. And I'll definitely bring that into this talk. Okay, great, sounds good.

So what would you say is kind of the main takeaway you want audiences to learn just more about how the systems work or just kind of get a little more background if they're not familiar? I would say, you know, the applications are endless for 3D scanning and, you know, I know from experience having done this for over 30 years that, you know, there are so many things that these technologies, so many problems that these technologies can solve.

And I just would want everyone to understand its general application, the general use cases, understand that there are many levels at which 3Scanning can be done. There's very serious industrial applications that involve equality control and inspection. And if you're flying airplane parts or automotive parts or things like that that really matter, that gets into some pretty technical stuff.

We do that too, and we'll cover that. But on the other end of the spectrum, there are applications for 3D scanning involving, you just want to put a new sofa in your living room, and will it fit? And you just wonder, how would I do this with a tape measure? Do it other ways? And today, I mean, I don't know how much I'll cover this, but there are applications that you can put on your cell phone and just do some basic 3D scanning that way. And so it's all across that spectrum literally things that you're carrying in your pocket today to very serious half a million dollar level scanning systems that are the types of things that we would want the most serious industrial companies to be using for sure. And so there's everything in between. And I like to walk through a concept where there's the critical applications. Manufacturing is certainly one of them. You could add defense and all of the things that we care about. We wanna make sure that all of our jets are flying accurately and carefully and all that is important with dimensional quality control for all of that. But it all the way goes down to consumer and general purpose 3D scanning. We think there's worlds of virtual tours that we're all starting to see if we haven't already, such as you wanna look for a real estate listing and see a new home for sale and you can click a button and take a virtual tour. That's a 3D scan behind the scenes. You may not even realize it, but it's all happening behind the scenes. There are applications related to human body for things like custom fit apparel and footwear and eyewear and dental is certainly an exploding market for the world of 3D scanning. It's almost its own world. But you know, we've all, many of us probably have seen that in our dentist's office where you get your tooth scan for a crown or something like that.

So it's all around us already and really exploding. And all of this happened in the last 20 years, I guess, where it really, really started to take off in all these different directions. And another world that's really exploding that may be less for this audience as well is the idea of scanning buildings and facilities. We do a tremendous amount of that work. Most architecture is designed in the computer these days. So a new building, they don't need scanning. They can just design a building. But when they're tasked with starting with an existing building, how do they work that in the computer? Well, we scan it and turn it into computer information so that they can now redesign it in the computer. And they're very comfortable with that these days. So those are a few, Boya and Michelle, but there's many others. Yeah, definitely. It's such a range from architecture to dentistry to movies and defense. And so yeah, it covers so many.

Quality: Is there any area where your company's been working especially these days or any kind of trending areas you've seen?

Michael: Great question. Over the years, we've done lots of things all over the map. In fact, I think we're one of the more unique companies in that sense that provide these types of 3D scanning services in the sense that we just tend not to say no to when somebody calls about something new. And I guess over the years, that's helped us because it's gotten us to go in many different directions. And with the economy, sometimes some of these directions are busier than others, which has kept us kind of steady over the years that way. But I will say we break our work down these days into sort of four different worlds. Certainly the main reason we're here to talk about things is this industrial world, the idea of things that are needing to be scanned for manufacturing or engineering reasons, such as reverse engineering parts that don't exist in the computer, or using scanning for quality control and dimensional inspection and reporting.

These are very common applications in the industrial sector. And they can be from very small parts, even jewelry, if it's being scanned for something like manufacturing, that's a great example. But all the way up through and including airplanes and ships and subs that we've scanned over the years, all for these industrial applications and reasons. A second world for us is that building scanning world that I talked about.

There are a lot of buildings around and most of them, almost all of them are not in the computer. So again, when any renovation is needed, we get called in and others around the country get called in to go scan those buildings and digitize them and allow that process to work. A third kind of world for us is all things art, sculpture, museum, historic preservation, cultural artifacts. We do quite a bit of work for the Smithsonian, for example, and many other museums, lots and lots of historic structures and sites all over the country, all over the world. We're involved in several projects that are international right now. And that's a fun one. And it's not just historic, it's also new art. We work with sculptors who are designing new pieces of art. And a lot of times the scanning is used for things like enlargements. We can scan a small piece and it can be digitally fabricated at any scale at that point.

And then the fourth world is always the most exciting, Michelle, is the Hollywood world. The idea of using all of these types of scanners that we use for sets, props, vehicles, costumes, prosthetics, and the actors. So we've been involved in over 75 movie production projects over the last 15 years, including some of the largest ever made, Infinity War and Endgame from Marvel's Avengers series, where those were two and a half year projects for us.

And we scan pretty much every single thing in those movies and many other movies, but all of the actors, the sets, the props, the vehicles, costumes, et cetera. And that's fun to talk about. It's something I can't show a lot about because they're very sensitive about these materials. And I would say somewhat even as sensitive as many of our government work that we do. It's kind of interesting that way. But that's kind of the four main genres, I guess, of worlds that we go in, markets.

There's probably many others. We do a fair amount of medical applications for medical prosthetics, and we're helping people put them back together using 3D scanning. It's been very rewarding to create the technologies around that over the years. And we've worked with some amazing hospitals, including Hopkins and the Mayo Clinic and all over the place. And some other worlds that I could probably come up with that are unique that we'll, I'm sure I'll have some other things we'll talk about when I give this presentation.

Wow, that is, that's such a range. And I can just imagine you going to a museum or looking around and thinking, hmm, how could we do this? Or this reminds me of another project we did. Or when you see movies, you know, recognizing your work or, so that's interesting. It is, and it's kind of a, I don't know, Achilles heel for me, because that's what I do. I walk around going, I want to scan that. Uh-huh, uh-huh, yeah.

Quality: Can I ask how you got into the industry originally?

Michael: Yeah, I started as an engineer out of school and immediately went into work in aerospace manufacturing. And this was in the mid-80s. And we were just starting to use computers. And we were just getting into 3D CAD. Believe it, we were early adopters, I think, even of 3D CAD and designing parts in the computer and then having them fabricated. And they weren't quite looking the same. And we wanted to be able to measure these parts and compare them against the digital models that we were designing. And that led us to find kind of a medical product that was out there being manufactured by a company in Florida that's called Ferro, that's used widely in industry now. And basically we helped them create the industrial version of this medical product. And it's used today, you know, 30 plus years later all over the world called the Ferro arm. I was kind of the first user. I never worked for Faro, we became there first customer. And so having that experience in this industrial environment in aerospace manufacturing and using that device to help solve problems once we got prototypes and kind of develop that product a little further, I decided I would leave aerospace, started Direct Dimensions in 1995, bought a Faro arm, became a reseller and a user providing services with that and training. And that was our start. It was very early on this idea of scanning anything.

We didn't even have scanners back then. We used the Faro as a probing digitizer. And it was a couple of years later where we added a scanner and started scanning things. And fast forward 30 years, we have close to 30 people and we have lots of scanning tools, solutions that come from companies all over the world that we think are the best in class for all these different applications that we discussed. We also represent and resell most of these tools to our customers and...

We also in the last several years have been developing some of our own tools, some of our own kind of customer specific, project specific scanning solutions that our customers have come to us and they say, they don't want us to do it as a service for them. They don't want to buy an off the shelf scanner. They need something much more specific. And we've developed several solutions. One was for the US Navy. One was for the Defense Department and another area that we've commercialized and we're selling into other markets as well now.

And we'll talk about those. I'll show some pictures and some examples of these products and how they work and yields and what they do as well. So it's been a long career involved in this.

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The Quality Show South will take place May 1st and 2nd in Nashville. Michael's session will take place Wednesday, May 1st at 2pm.