3D scanning is a young technology, but it has a lot of potential for growth and innovation. Most of the current models work by scanning an object and converting it into a large number of individual points, which the system records in three-dimensional space. Another program can then use those points to reconstruct an image of the object. Some systems also check for color or other features. The end result is a pattern for an object that a human can manipulate or use as it is for a variety of purposes. Naturally, the process is quite complicated, so engineers are constantly finding ways to improve it as well as new applications for the technology.
There have been persistent rumors and plans about integrating facial recognition programming to cell phones. 3D scanning is likely to be at the core of that technology, since it can help to create an accurate image of the face for the phone to recognize. It is also likely that people will start to use their phones to create 3D scans of objects that they want to print in the future, when 3D printing becomes more common. These new uses for 3D scanning depend on both improvements to the technology to ensure their reliability and miniaturization to turn phones into acceptable scanners, but the future is promising in spite of those challenges.
3D scanners are also playing a growing part in the manufacturing process. Most manufacturing begins with a prototype, which exists so that engineers can make sure that the product will behave properly. One they are certain that it does, they often need to make molds or program 3D printers to produce the final product. Doing that manually is possible, but it is difficult, slow, and expensive, so many manufacturers would love to have a substitute. They have already started using 3D scanners and computer programs to do so, and the process is becoming more popular as the technology gets better. The increased usage often means that the engineers who are working on 3D scanners receive more money to make them even better. That leads to more companies adopting them. It is a powerful cycle, which is likely to lead to plenty of improvements in 3D scanning technology in the coming years.
Many manufacturers are also starting to use 3D scanning at the end of the production process. Currently, quality control often relies on human workers looking at a product as using their best judgment to decide if it is adequate. Some processes do use more precise tools, but that takes a great deal of time and money. 3D scanners can check a product’s dimensions and the positioning of components very quickly compared to the existing methods, and they are usually more precise than a human. They can scan an object, compare it to an ideal form that is recorded in a database, and identify any irregularities automatically.
Some companies even hope to attach the scanners to the end of robotic arms, so that they can examine the items on a conveyor belt without human intervention. This has the potential to massively cut the cost of quality control for a variety of items while also improving quality. It will have the greatest impact on items that need to be created within very precise specifications, but it is likely that the vast majority of industries will eventually adopt and benefit from this technology.
While the industrial sector does put the most effort into developing 3D scanning technology, and is likely to see the biggest benefits from it, some individuals are also starting to make use of it. Most people who do so intend to combine it with 3D printers, since they can use the scanner to produce designs for the printer to replicate. This makes it possible for sculptors and other individuals who can build physical objects to make use of 3D printers in their homes without mastering any digital design tools.
That doesn’t have a huge impact at the moment, but that will change as soon as private 3D printers become common. Soon, people who need to repair an appliance in their home will be able to scan old parts and print out new ones. The savings will be large, both in terms of time and money, for people who are willing to build and repair things on their own.