For centuries, processes for producing certain tools were kept relatively similar. At the industrial revolution, the property of a few and knowledge of a few others allowed us to automate these procedures and refine them.
Now, with services like Shapeway's
3D printing, the computer age has given the tools for anyone interested to become privy and capable of manufacturing anything we can think of, and design using CAD software. But, these capabilities are being expanded, generalized, and becoming even more accessible as software becomes the main platform for designing and we let CNC machines do all the work. Perhaps the best example of our complete domination of the manufacturing process is what the 3D Systems subsidiary, Rapidform, has done to turn any physical object into a CAD drawing that can be virtually modified or physically brought back to life.
The Rapidform process is primarily used for reverse engineering of any object. Since modern manufacturing is heavily reliant on CAD suites to design and test, many objects that were created before the advent of CAD technology were disregarded, or needed to be painstakingly measured and redrawn in software. Procedures that take up a lot of time that risk losing accuracy and information of an original archaic-component are unacceptable tradeoffs to successful modern manufacturing. This could be a huge problem for people trying to restore a 1920s vehicle, whose parts have been long discontinued and are hard to find. Jay Leno can attest to this -- he used Rapidform to reverse engineer obsolete parts for his Big Dog Garage.
Rapidform's solutions take several 3D scans of the broken, fatigued, or discontinued piece. Precisely combine these scans and then redraw it, using computerized tracing software. This drawing could then be exported to a familiar CAD package used by industry manufacturers to rebuild the part. This, in short, is what the Rapidform software does.
Rapidform has divided its software into three different sections, XOS, XOR, and XOV, and all three are vital for the accurate reverse engineering of parts. The XOS software allows users to convert the data from any 3D scan into a highly accurate mesh or NURBS surface. It also facilitates combining and aligning multiple scans, and gives choice of producing meshes with adequate amount of resolution including defect-free meshes. The XOV program is used at the end as it automates the verification of tolerances by comparing the traced parametric drawing with the data obtained from the scans.
In order to create the drawing, the scanning data is used within the XOR software to perform the digital tracing. As any CAD user knows, creating slanted surfaces or curved features at irregular angles is difficult and could take hours. Performing this tracing is exactly what is unique to the XOR program.
The XOR developers have developed simple functions that use as much of the scan data as possible to create the CAD rendering. This software is capable of detecting and color-coding all the different features of a scanned part automatically. Specialized tools like the Lofting Wizard allows the program to detect angled and curved surfaces automatically. It snap-fits general, idealized curves to the scan, and the user must simply edit them in order to achieve a fit within tolerances. Pattern tools can finish repetitive work and make editing fast, just as in regular CAD and fillets, plus other finishing tools allow the user to complete drawings, to precise specifications, on the XOR program itself.