Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Note from Michael Raphael

Direct Dimensions, Inc. began offering portable 3D measurement services in the spring of 1995. At that time, 3D industrial measurement technology was in its infancy as portable computing power was just beginning to develop. Somewhere around then we got our first laptop – hardly even a computer much less a laptop by today’s standards!

Having helped develop a revolutionary new industrial 3D measurement device called the Faro Arm in the early 90’s, I was inspired to start this company dedicated to the application of advanced 3D measurement technologies for a wide variety of uses. More than a company, we strove to create an environment which inspired innovation and development; a place where our employees, as well as our customers and vendors would embrace the challenge of implementing new technologies.

Year after year, together, we have pushed the limits of a broadening range of 3D technologies to solve increasingly complex problems for an expanding spectrum of industries and applications. Today we can look back at our portfolio of thousands of such projects – all contributing to a body of knowledge within our company that I feel is unsurpassed anywhere in the world.

Fifteen years ago we started with a single Faro Arm. Shortly after that we added a Kreon laser line scanner. Since then we have continued to add new tools for solving 3D problems of nearly every size and shape. Our company has essentially evolved into a working R&D lab, outfitted with advanced equipment and talented employees all underwritten by the services and products we provide to our customers.

As we continue to take on new challenges, new employees, and new equipment, we will continue to discover better ways to solve 3D problems. Projects that were unimaginable 15 years ago and nearly impossible 10 years ago, we can now accomplish in hours. Our innovation and perseverance have allowed us to expand our customer base beyond our original aerospace roots. We now provide fast, affordable, and accurate 3D scanning and modeling services to virtually all industries, including art, architecture, consumer products, the medical field, and the entertainment industry.

Beyond our little 3D industry, recent innovations in social media now allow us to keep in better contact with our admirers. The creation of YouTube and SlideShare offer excellent platforms to showcase our highly visual projects and presentations. We also send out regular newsletters, have a company blog, and we even tweet!

A special thank you to our many wonderful customers, vendors, and employees who have helped make the last 15 years so successful. We look forward to the next 15!

Michael Raphael,
Founder, President & Chief Engineer, Direct Dimensions, Inc.


15 Great Projects Over the Past 15 Years

Over the past 15 years we've worked on many truly incredible projects. From art and architecture to aerospace and automotive, and these are just the A's. Below are 15 of our favorites, one from each year, and it wasn't easy to choose.

1995: Olympic Sculpture Brought to Life - One of our first 3D sculpture projects way back in our founding year, was to digitize a 4-foot model of a sculpture to help fabricate a monumental sized public art piece for the 1996 Olympics Games in Atlanta. Our 3D data was used for structural analysis.
1996: Power Generation Components - We reverse engineered our first compressor, impeller, turbine blade, and diaphragm way back in 1996 for upgrading power plants. Back then we used contact digitizers before the laser scanners of today existed.
1997: Recreating Unique Automobiles – One of our earliest historic automotive projects was digitizing a one-of-a-kind 1951 Cunningham roadster, considered the first modern American sports car. Our data was used to create reproductions.
1998: Digitizing the Wright Propellers - To recreate the Wright Bro.’s first flight from 1903 in honor of the 2003 centennial, an airplane reproduction company asked us to reverse engineer original propellers from several historic Wright planes. We collaborated with the US Army in Edgewood.
1999: 3D Digital Facial Prosthetics – Back in 1999 we scanned our first ear to make a medical prosthesis. We scanned a plaster cast of an ear and mirrored it to create a digital version of the missing opposite ear. This digital file was also used to make an RP for a surgical guide.

2000: Aircraft OML Scanning for Analysis – Early in the new decade we scanned our first of many "outside mold line" aircraft exteriors for CFD analysis. Back then we used a laser tracker, today we use the amazing Surphaser.
2001: Lincoln Memorial Scan - Just weeks after 9/11, the U.S. Gov't called with a very special request. They wanted to see how 3D scanning could digitally preserve monuments and artifacts in case of catastrophe. We demonstrated this with Abe at the Lincoln Memorial.
2002: Monumental Church 'Monument' - We traveled to Richmond, VA to 3D laser scan a decaying marble monument from 1811. Our completely restored digital model enabled the rebuilding of a new monument exactly as it was designed originally.
2003: Ray Lewis Marble Bust – We scanned Baltimore Raven's player Ray Lewis and made a beautiful life-like marble bust which was auctioned off for his charity. Since then we've done Amelia, Kelly Ripa, and Natalie Portman. Oh boy!
2004: Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – We laser scanned and digitally restored the Tomb of the Unknowns. Our 3D digital model may be used one day to fabricate a replacement for the cracked monument.
2005: Scanning the Liberty Bell - One of our most significant efforts ever has been our work with the Liberty Bell. We have scanned it three times over 6 years with increasingly better technology. Today we have a fingerprint level digital model of this famous icon.
2006: 3D Animated Political Cartoons – We have a lot of fun working with renowned political cartoonist - Kal. We scanned his exaggerated clay sculptures, including George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama so he could make 3D animated political cartoons.
2007: 3D Scanning Helps U.S. Solider – For years we've worked with Johns Hopkins to develop radical new methods for 3D digital prosthetics. In 2007 we helped create a new nose for a soldier wounded in Iraq. This was truly one of our most rewarding projects and it was later featured on CNN.
2008: Laser Scanning Buildings for BIM – As early adopters of long range scanning for historic preservation as well as ships and airplanes, its logical to also scan and model large building structures. Often these models feed into BIM for downstream re-design and analysis.
2009: Scanning Aircraft with the Surphaser – We are constantly testing new 3D products from all over the world. This year we implemented the Surphaser as a fantastic new scanning tool for a wide range of projects - from cars to airplanes and everything in between!

2010: Matisse Sculpture 3D Analysis - A major art exhibition opened at MoMA in New York featuring extensive technical analysis of Matisse's "Back" sculptures. Our team played a huge role with our various 3D technologies for scanning, modeling, and analyzing the pieces for this important and unique exhibit.

Our team at Direct Dimensions, combined with our tools, history, experience, and skills, is quite unique in the United States and perhaps the entire world. We simply don't know of another organization with the variety of tools and talent that we've accumulated over the past 15 years. The above glimpse into 15 projects over our first 15 years amazes us and should amaze you too. It is very exciting to look back but even more exciting to think about what the next 15 years will bring.

Thanks for reading thru this and we welcome your feedback and reposts to your friends about this amazing list.

From your 3D friends at Direct Dimensions.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Case Study: Engine Block Modeling

Scanning and Modeling Helps Customer Meet Tight Deadline

A few years ago Direct Dimensions was approached by Patrick Power Products, Inc. (P3I) with a typical 3D problem: they needed an engine modeled into a 3D digital format. P3I is a cutting-edge company specializing in the development of auxiliary power generation systems. This particular project was for the U.S. Army, which had contracted P3I to use their patented technology and process to convert a rotary engine to run on diesel fuel.

The engineers at P3I needed a complete native CAD model of the rotary engine with full parametric history that would allow them to bring it into SolidWorks computer-aided design (CAD) software so they could design the rotor housing and spark plug area to fit their patented “pre-chamber”. The problem was that the contract had a very fast turn around and, while the engineers at Patrick Power certainly had the skills necessary to draw the engine in their CAD package, they were short on time.

Given this challenge, Patrick Power Products contracted Direct Dimensions to rapidly laser scan and model the engine components. With the file of the existing engine provided by DDI, the engineers at P3I would have ample time to redesign and test their technology before their deadline.

Over the next several days, Direct Dimensions technicians digitized and laser scanned two engines using a portable FARO Scan Arm system. The first engine was scanned in its entirety and the other was disassembled to scan specific areas in more detail. such as the rotor housing. The FARO system provides users both a contact probe for high accuracy geometric features and a non-contact laser scanner for complex contoured cast surfaces.

With the raw 3D data gathered during scanning, the DDI engineers then created accurate 3D CAD models of the engine with specific attention paid to the rotor housing and mounting points. These models allowed Patrick Power Products to design and manufacture their prototype.

The prototype ran successfully on the first test and P3I completed their contract ahead of their deadline. According to Mike Griffith, an engineer at P3I, "with a short duration contract, if we had not had that model, we never would have gotten the engine running. We could have still been making drawings but we actually ended up ahead of schedule."


Friday, June 18, 2010

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About 3D Scanning Part 4

Chapter 4: Reverse Engineering
Converting Raw Point Clouds into CAD Formats: Step 2 – Files that can be brought into Parametric Modelers

You’ve read our overviews, figured out how to collect data, and now that you have this data, what do you do with it? Chapters Three through Five will cover how this data can be processed into more usable digital forms.

In Chapter 3 we discussed processing 3D data into polygonal models and dumb solids, but what happens when you need more than a simple mesh file or you must have geometry features to enable your redesign process? As previously discussed, we categorize the processing of the collected data into two main categories: Digital Modeling and Reverse Engineering. In Chapter 3 we discussed Digital Modeling (polygonal or rapid NURBS dumb solids), but when you need to go beyond these simpler model formats, we call that Reverse Engineering with “design intent.”


Reverse Engineering - the process of measuring and then creating a CAD model of an object that reflects how the object was originally designed (with its design intent).

Design Intent - the intended design of an as-built physical object. Every manufactured part or object varies from its original intended design by some factor. These imperfections can be identified, analyzed, and corrected during the reverse engineering process.

As-built - modeling which captures the exact physical shape of an object as it actually is, with its imperfections (as opposed to its design intent).

When should I request a Parametric Model vs. the simpler Rapid NURBS or Polygonal Mesh Model?

So when does a project fall into the category of Reverse Engineering as opposed to Digital Modeling? Why should I opt for Reverse Engineering when it sounds more time consuming and requires additional processing, and therefore is probably more expensive?

At Direct Dimensions our recommendation generally depends on several factors including: shape (organic vs. geometric) and desired file output. If you want to make a Rapid Prototype of a hand-carved chair seat then going the digital modeling route is probably a fine option for you. If you want to scan an airplane to create an accurate model for CFD analysis, need a model of an impeller for flow analysis, or require a model of an engine casing for a redesign then you’ll probably want to spend the time and effort required creating a fully reversed engineered model.

Perhaps the biggest difference between Digital Modeling and Reverse Engineering is the desired file output. People that choose Digital Modeling generally will use the file for Rapid Prototyping or visualization purposes. When you need more than that, either for redesign purposes or for importing models into analysis programs, you generally choose to Reverse Engineer, which means bringing your files into parametric modeling software. There are essentially four types of models that work for this (two of them we discussed in the previous chapter):

* A Rapid NURBS ‘dumb solid’ (previously discussed in Chapter 3) starts with the polygonal model. NURBS surfaces are wrapped over the polygonal mesh. This wrapped surface model is smoother than a polygonal model and generally contains no regular geometric features. This type of NURBS model can be brought into parametric modelers such as SolidWorks (albeit with no parametric history – which is why we call it dumb).
* The bridge between Digital Modeling and Reverse Engineering is the Hybrid Model (previously discussed in Chapter 3). A hybrid model is a polygonal model that has been converted in a rapid NURBS surface model and then also uses some traditional solid modeling techniques. It is commonly used when basic geometric features, such as holes & edges, blend with complex organic contours, such as a machined casting.
* The Hybrid ‘dumb solid’ model is considered a step up from the fully Rapid NURBS, in both time and effort, but certainly not as time consuming as a fully reverse engineered parametric model. Unlike the Rapid NURBS, which is essentially a wrap around a polygonal frame, the hybrid dumb solid contains some geometric features such as holes, planes, and radii but these features still have no parametric history.
* A fully reverse engineered Parametric Model will have a fully functioning feature tree, allowing for complete redesign if necessary. These models are built as if they were engineered from scratch, making them perfect for the reverse engineering of legacy parts and redesigns.

Design Intent or As-Built?

When choosing to reverse engineer a part, it is important to decide if the part should be reverse engineered as-built (or as-scanned, in its current state) or engineered with its design intent. Often the actual physical production parts are off just fractions of millimeters or sometimes the parts have worn down a bit from the original fabrication. It is important to clarify the end use of the data when discussing your project with a reverse engineering firm so they know whether you need design intent or as-built models.

The Reverse Engineering Advantage

There can be a fine line between Digital Modeling and Reverse Engineering and sometimes both methods can be a valid solution to 3D problems. Some advantages of Reverse Engineering are:

* Can be brought into Parametric Modeling Packages (solid modeling CAD software)
* Parametric Models will have a feature tree that is editable
* Other than Rapid NURBS dumb solids, reverse engineered models contain geometric features such as planes and radii making the models a better fit for designing and measuring.
* Reverse engineered models are great for analysis software such as for CFD and FEA.

Getting Started

In the previous chapters, to get you going, we discussed the software products that we use literally every day here at Direct Dimensions (shown in alphabetical order):

* Geomagic
* Imageware
* Innovmetric PolyWorks
* Rapidform

The CAD packages we use frequently include: AutoCAD, CATIA, Siemens NX, ProEngineer, Rhino3D, and SolidWorks.

What else can I do with a model?

Now that you know a bit more about what we call Digital Modeling and Reverse Engineering you may feel like you don’t need to know anything else about the uses and creation of 3D models. However, there is one more major use of 3D scanning that we want to talk about. The next chapter will discuss utilizing 3D Scanning for Inspection / Analysis.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Everthing You Always Wanted to Know About 3D Scanning Part 3

Chapter 3: Digital Modeling
Converting Raw Point Clouds into CAD Formats

You’ve read your overview, figured out how to collect data, and now that you have this data, what do you do with it? Chapters Three through Five will cover how this data can be processed.

As you learned in Chapter Two, Direct Dimensions breaks data collection into two common methods: Laser Scanning and Digitizing. We also categorize the processing of the collected data into two main categories: Digital Modeling and Reverse Engineering. In this chapter, we’ll tell you what you need to know about Digital Modeling.

Digital Modeling: the process of creating a computer model of an object that exactly replicates the form of the object. Laser scanners are used to capture the 3D data of the object, and this data is transferred to the computer where it is aligned, edited and finalized as a complete 3D model.

Polygonal Models and Dumb Solids

So, when does something fall into the category of Digital Modeling as opposed to Reverse Engineering? At DDI it generally depends on a couple of factors: shape (organic vs. geometric) and desired file output. As a general rule of thumb, organic shapes tend to fall into the Digital Modeling category, as do polygonal models (STL Files) and Rapid NURBS Dumb Solids.

A Polygonal Model is a faceted (or tessellated) model consisting of many triangles. Facets are formed by connecting points within the point cloud. STL files can be used for visualization, rapid prototyping, design, milling, and analysis software.

A Rapid NURBS ‘Dumb’ Solid (usually in IGS format) starts with the polygonal model. NURBS surfaces are wrapped over the polygonal wire frame. This wrapped surface model is smoother than a polygonal model. The NURBS model can be brought into parametric modelers such as SolidWorks (albeit with no parametric history – which is why we call it dumb).

The bridge between Digital Modeling and Reverse Engineering is the Hybrid Model. A Hybrid model is a polygonal model that has been converted in a rapid NURBS surface model and then also uses traditional solid modeling techniques. It is commonly used when basic geometric features, such as holes & edges, blend with complex organic contours, such as a machined casting.
Do Reverse Engineering and Digital Modeling ever Overlap?

In addition to Hybrid Models, there are instances when it is appropriate to use both Digital Modeling and Reverse Engineering techniques. For example, when collecting data of a large object (such as a plane) for Reverse Engineering, it is necessary to use a laser scanner to capture the massive amounts of surface data. The data output from a laser scanner is a point cloud, but point clouds cannot be brought into any CAD packages. Before the data can be transferred into CAD it must be digitally modeled into either a polygonal model or a Rapid NURBS dumb solid.

The Digital Modeling Advantage

There can be a fine line between Digital Modeling and Reverse Engineering and sometimes both methods can be a valid solution to 3D problems. Some advantages of Digital Modeling are:

* Digital Modeling generally offers a faster and more cost effective solution.
* It presents a great solution for creating solid models when an object has organic contours.
* Offers excellent dimensional accuracy and can be utilized for comparative analysis.
* While it is true that Rapid NURBS Dumb Solid models do not have parametric history, they can be utilized as a base for design work and Boolean functions are possible.
* Unlike raw point clouds, Digital Models can be visualized in rendering software as a solid object, which is great for seeing the overall shape and contour of the model.

Getting Started

In Chapter Two we discussed data collection and various brands of scanners and digitizers that we use on a daily basis. Don’t worry! We won’t leave you hanging on what software packages we recommend for digital modeling. We use the following packages every day at DDI (in alphabetical order):

* Geomagic Shape Studio: Polygonal and NURBS modeling and point cloud to CAD comparison. Geomagic can automatically generate an accurate digital model from any physical part.
* PolyWorks Modeler: Polygonal modeling and point cloud to CAD comparison. PolyWorks can process large point clouds over 100 million points and easily integrates with all standard digitizers and articulating arms.
* Rapidform: Third generation point processing software for creating native parametric "design-intent" CAD models directly from scan data. At Direct Dimensions we often use Rapidform in Hybrid Modeling but it also has a great Rapid NURBS function.

Tackling Reverse Engineering

Now that you know a bit more about what we call Digital Modeling and why it can be a great option, you are ready to tackle Reverse Engineering.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Tomb of the Unkowns

Laser Scanning the Tomb of the Unknowns

In honor of Memorial Day we thought it fitting to make sure our followers know that the Tomb of the Unknown in Arlington, VA was 3D laser scanned for digital preservation.

Here's a link to the story on our website: 3D Scanning the Tomb of the Unknowns

The solid marble Tomb is cracked - severely - and without controversial repairs it will eventually fall apart. This digital documentation is intended to be used to fabricate an exact reproduction for its replacement.

This is not a new project for us but the 3D documentation of the Tomb is part of an on-going debate within the preservation community. While the 3D digital data has been ready to make a new marble Tomb for years, the replacement project has created a discussion about whether to repair or reproduce.