It’s not easy to convert 3D scans into usable CAD models. Software that can do it is an excellent example of the iron triangle rule: Given the options of fast, good, and cheap, you can only have two. If you’re lucky.
Up until now, engineers and designers have been faced with a choice between cheap (or free) software that does an OK (sometimes good enough) job, given a lot of time and effort, or expensive software, that does a better job, pretty quickly.
Geomagic has just bent the iron triangle, with the introduction of Spark, a program that combines a live 3D scanning interface, robust 3D point and mesh editing capabilities, comprehensive modeling design, assembly modeling, and 2D drawing creation in one complete application. It is both fast, and very good.
But what about cheap? No. Spark is priced for professionals, not for hobbyists. Still, it costs less than half as much as it’s closest functional competitor, Rapidform XOR.
Geomagic understands computational geometry
Founded in 1996, Geomagic has a deep background in the mathematics required to handle point clouds, meshes, and NURBS surfaces. Geomagic Studio is their high-end solution for converting point clouds into CAD quality NURBS models.
Spark integrates the best of Geomagic Studio with one of the very best direct CAD programs: SpaceClaim. The result is one of those “why didn’t I think of that” products. It is easy enough to learn and use that engineers with little or no CAD background can get up to speed on it with little or no formal training. With some modest practice, an average user should be able to turn even a bad 3D scan into an accurate and manufacturable CAD model in a satisfyingly short period of time. (Let’s say, tens of minutes, rather than tens of hours.) Experienced CAD users may find themselves forever spoiled by Spark’s fluidity in creating and editing relatively complex models and assemblies.
The models produced by Spark are clean and accurate NURBS-based explicit (non-parametric) B-Rep solids. Every major MCAD system has the ability to consume and edit these models, either through direct editing, or feature recognition. If, perchance, you’re interested in sending Spark models out to CAE, CAM, or CMM (inspection) applications, the situation is even better: one of SpaceClaim’s core competencies (and most popular applications) is in model preparation/simplification for CAE, CAM, and CMM. Spark also inherets SpaceClaim’s facility with PMI (product and manufacturing information) editing and 3D printing.
It’s a workflow issue
Before Spark, the process of going from a 3D scan to a usable CAD model was often tedious, but never trivial (if you wanted good results.) You had to master separate scanning and CAD applications—both of which would typically have far more options (and complexity) than you really needed to get the job done. Spark may have more capabilities than some users will require, but there seems to be little penalty in terms of usability in having these capabilities.
The Mainstreaming of 3D scan-to-CAD
Timing is everything. A new generation of products is moving the entry point for professional grade 3D scanners down from the $30,000 to $100,000 range, to something a bit more sane. (Figure anywhere between $2,000 to $20,000, depending on your requirements.) At the same time, 3D printing has had a rebirth of interest, driven by low-cost products from companies such as MakerBot and FormLabs. And direct CAD is becoming widely accepted. This confluence of changes is moving scan-to-CAD into the mainstream.
In this context, Geomagic Spark makes a lot of sense. It provides professional-grade 3D scan-to-CAD (to print) capabilities, with great ease-of-use, and a sane price point.