Industry Terminology

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3D scanning or digitizing

3D scanning or digitizing typical refers to the use of white light scanners or laser based sensors to ‘scan’ a surface and capture required features and geometry in a digital format. Technology advances in recent years now make it possible to quickly and accurately capture small or large objects using this approach. These can be parts, prototypes, manufacturing tooling, assemblies, carvings, sculptures and many other types of ‘physical’ objects. Examples include the Steinbichler COMET (white light | blue light) and Steinbichler T-Scan (laser) technologies.


Laser Scanning

Laser Scanning is an optical non contact measurement method for three dimensional measurements of physical objects, parts and assemblies. 3D laser scanning typically involves the projection of a laser dot, line or pattern onto a part surface and uses a camera to capture the reflection of the laser light. Triangulation calculations are then performed knowing the spatial relationships between camera and laser projection to derive the three dimensional information about the physical objects.  See Steinbichler TScan

White Light Scanning

White Light Scanning is an optical non contact measurement method for three dimensional measurement of physical objects. White light scanning typically involves the projection of a visible light source with a projection pattern that changes over a short period of time while a camera system records the observed pattern and its changes on the object. Triangulation calculations are then performed knowing the spatial relationships between camera and projector units to derive the three dimensional information or 3D data about the physical objects being scanned.  See also Steinbichler COMET


Blue Light LED Scanning

Blue Light scanning, much like white light scanning is an optical non contact measurement method for three dimensional measurements of physical objects.
Unlike white light scanners, blue light scanners use LED technology to capture up to 2 million 3D measurement points in approximately 1.5 seconds. Parts with complex features can be captured many times faster using this process. See Steinbichler COMET L3D 


Laser Tracker

A laser tracker is a portable, high precision 3D measurement system that is typically used for large scale 3D measurement needs such as machinery alignment, fixture verification, manufacturing tooling, large parts and welded assemblies among many other uses. Laser trackers use a laser to measure distances combined with high precision encoders and special software to calculate the 3D positional coordinates of a mirrored target called an SMR or BMR. The laser tracker ‘tracks’ the 3D position of the mirrored SMR or BMR device across parts or objects and adjusts the 3D position of the SMR at a high frequency rate. Laser trackers offer excellent accuracy and repeatability over large measurement distances.


Reverse engineering

Reverse engineering typically refers to the construction of 3D CAD models based upon the use of various 3D digitizing technologies to capture important geometry from a part or tool where a CAD model has been lost or does not exist. Different types of CAD models can be created depending on the needs identified. For example, a rapid NURBs model can be quickly created based upon high quality 3D ‘point cloud’ data or fully parametric models can be built using a variety of techniques in CAD software. A wide range of CAD data formats can be provided once the reverse engineering process is completed. This new information can be used to develop tooling including moulds, dies and fixtures as well as a basis for quality inspection.


Quality Inspection

PC processing capability and the comprehensive and accurate 3D data capture capable with white light and laser digitizing technologies makes ‘point cloud’ based 3D inspection much faster than in the past. This offers many opportunities for quick and thorough inspection to address requirements such as metal spring back analysis, first article inspection of metals and plastics, weld assembly inspection, material warpage and shrinkage and other types of deformation or defects. 


Large scale 3D scanning or digitizing

Scanning technologies are now available for large scale 3D scanning. This offers the capability to capture ‘as built’ information for piping layouts, plant layouts, historical buildings, heritage sites and even full size aircraft digitizing. 


3D printing

3D printing is an important aspect of additive manufacturing. It is especially effective for parts or assemblies with complex geometry and that are needed in limited quantity. The process involves taking a 3D model created in CAD or from 3D scanning, typically in STL format and ‘printing’ layers of material (e.g. liquid resin, powder or sheet material) based upon cross-sectional slices from the 3D model. These successive layers are joined or ‘fused’ together during the 3D printing process to create the final 3D shape of the 3D printed object or product. 3D printing can be used to create almost any shape, although the process is limited by the size of the printing bed itself. The final quality of the 3D printed object is dependent upon the material selected and the thickness of the ‘digital layers’ used in the printing process. 3D printing of an object, part or product can take a few hours to a few days depending on size and complexity.


Engineering Analysis

Optical 3D digitizing technologies have become powerful tools for the quick and thorough acquisition of 3D information to support critical non-destructive engineering analyses such as CFD (computational fluid dynamics) or FEA (finite element analysis) for a wide range of part, assemblies and products.


Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD)

Through the use of white light and laser scanning technologies, complete 3D models can be build for simulation of fluid dynamics properties associated with a particular physical product or design including automotive bodies, automotive styling parts, marine hulls, and turbine blades to just name a few. 


Finite Element Analysis (FEA)

3D white light and laser scanning technologies make it possible to accurately capture the ‘as built’ geometry of a physical part. This supports the ability to complete ‘true’ FEA analysis rather than being limited to theoretical FEA analysis based upon a CAD model alone. FEA can be used to assist with analysis of possible flaws prior to manufacturing a product or assembly.



A process of triangulation measurement using multiple images from a digital camera, from different viewpoints.  Typically targets will be used in the calculations to aid in identifying points to be measured and orienting the images.  Photogrammetry is suitable for both small and large scale applications – either a one-time static measurement, aiding in deformation analyses, or aiding in holding overall accuracy for Steinbichler COMET white-light scanning measurement.


Resolution (for a 3D scanner) 

The point to point distance that the scanning or digitizing device is capable of generating.  This is sometimes also called Point Density. 


Accuracy (for a 3D scanner)

Dimensionally how precisely each generated point describes the intended point on the surface of the part.



The process of orienting the scan data (or CAD data) to be in a logical x, y, z coordinate system.  This may be using known datums on the part/fixture, or features of relevance, or a best-fit to existing 3D data or CAD.



The process of generating CAD data, assisted by using the results of 3D scanning to mathematically describe the surface geometry of part or object.  Generally there are three types: Classical (or Conventional), Rapid, and Hybrid.


Classical Surfacing

The creation of CAD data to a high standard, such that it cannot be distinguished (in terms of quality of surfaces) from original design data.  The resulting data (typically IGES, STEP, or others) will have the highest fidelity or usefulness for down-stream users, but may deviate more from the “as scanned” or “as built” object or tool due to assumptions made by the person modeling the object.  It may or may not be available with the modeling history, depending on the approach and software used.


Rapid Surfacing 

The creation of CAD data using the scan data as a mathematical reference for fitting NURBs surfaces.  Software can assist in varying degrees on how the surface patch structure is created – from fully automatic to giving full control to the person modeling the object.  Due to the fitting algorithms used, these models tend to represent the scan data very closely (including any imperfections in either the model or the scan data).  This can be a powerful technique for constructing surfaces involving complex, organic geometry. 


Hybrid Surfacing

Combines a mixture of 'classical' and 'rapid' surfacing.  Typically complex and organic surface geometry is rapid surfaced, while geometric features or areas of anticipated change are classically surfaced to allow the highest fidelity in these areas.


Polygon or Triangle Mesh 

A data structure which is usually a post-processing result of scanning.  Software can start with a cloud of points, and create a connectivity network between the points, forming a triangle mesh which includes normal direction of the data.  During this process, sub-processes such as filtering and data reduction (decimation) can be performed.  The most commonly used polygon mesh format is STL (Standard Tessellation Language), which is also the same format often used in rapid prototyping (RP) systems as an input to create physical models from the RP process.


Watertight Model

Referring to a condition of a polygon mesh where all edges and vertices of the triangles are properly connected to another triangle.  There are no open edges.  The model is completely enclosed, such that “it could keep water out”.


Digital Shape Sampling and Processing (DSSP)

DSSP, or digital shape sampling and processing, is a broadly encompassing term used to describe the use of 3D scanning technologies and the downstream uses for the 3D scan or ‘point cloud’ data created.  Generally speaking, DSSP refers to a variety of 3D scanning methods and techniques as well as the hardware and software associated with this process.  DSSP typically refers to any type of 3D measurement technology (including optical 3D scanning or digitizing, contact or probe-based 3D measurement) and their uses.  These include design, reverse engineering, quality inspection and various approaches to customized manufacturing. This includes 3D laser scanning, 3D white light scanning, conventional CMM measurement, portable CMM measurement, industrial photogrammetry and other technologies used for 3D geometric data acquisition.DSSP involves digitally capturing physical objects with a wide range of shapes and sizes to then create digital 3D models. These can be 3D CAD models or CAD-like models such as 3D polygon meshes. The term DSSP applies across many industries and recognizes the often overlooked important steps of 3D data processing and manipulation which can be critical between initial 3D data capture and the desired final results of the 3D scanning or 3D ‘shape sampling’ process.Considerable activity and advancement has occurred in recent years aimed at improving data acquisition speed and quality from 3D scanning and in 3D modeling and inspection software to improve the capability for processing the 3D data for an increasingly diverse range of useful purposes.  Ultimately, 3D scanner data quality depends on the density and accuracy of the 3D data acquired by the scanner.


Complex tube inspection

Three dimensional measurement inspection or 3D inspection of tubular parts, not necessarily limited to round sections, which typically measures bend points and angles, bend-in-bend forms, section lengths, tube start and end positions. Complex tube inspection can be performed quite rapidly using optical technologies and can include flexible tube portions as well as flanges, couplings, and difficult cases such as 180 degree bends. Complex tube inspection results can report x,y,z positions or push, bend and rotate values and can also be integrated back into computer numerically controlled tube benders to provide a ‘closed loop’ manufacturing feedback system.


Non contact measurement system

Non contact measurement system refers to a type of measurement device which does not require physical contact or touching of the part, assembly or object involved to acquire the desired data. In terms of three dimensional measurement systems, these are typically white light scanning or 3D laser scanning systems. These differ from more traditional coordinate measuring machines (CMM’s) or touch probe based systems such as articulated arms, optically tracked probes and laser trackers, which typically involve surface contact with a probe tip or similar device. Non contact measurement systems may either be portable or installed in a particular location. The broader definition may include other types of systems beyond those addressing 3D surface measurement and include such parameters as temperature, motion, and colour. 


Long Range Scanning

Long range scanning is typically a ground based procedure used for collecting high density 3D geospatial data.  Long range scanning systems are capable of capturing data as far away as 300 meters with a single scan.  Using this method it is possible to collect high detail of an entire facility.  The 3D scan data generated allows the user to view the 'as built' conditions of the scanned subject in the virtual world.  The point cloud data can be used to create solid or surface CAD models which can be used for redesign or retrofit design work.

Long range scanning is used in many important industry applications such as aircraft assembly, mining, civil engineering, automotive OEMs, process piping, film sets, oil and gas, industrial plant layouts and heritage building preservation.  This technology is used wherever there is a need for fast, non intrusive and accurate 3D information to capture existing conditions.