Laser scanning technologies may seem too advanced for some in the metalworking industry in Southeast Asia but attitudes are changing. By Joson Ng
3D documentation has a futuristic twang that sets the mind racing 20 to 30 years into the future. While this may ironically consign the technology to the KIV folder as a ‘curious interest’ in the metalworking world here in Southeast Asia, it is important to play devil’s advocate and show that the technology has a place in the metalworking arena here.
The concept of taking a scan of an object or surrounding and presenting it as a 3D model may only be an enabler for 3D documentation, it is a good idea to study what these enablers or 3D scanners can do in the metalworking world.
First produced sometime in the early 90s, 3D scanners have been making incremental improvements over the years. However, technological advancement may have worked against it in terms of adoption in this region because like 3D documentation, 3D laser scanning is perceived to be out of reach for many in the metalworking industry, particularly those in the emerging economies where there is an affinity for more traditional methods of measurement. This is a misconception that metrology solutions providers are eager to dispel.
Insisting that 3D laser scanners have a place in Southeast Asia’s metalworking arena, Mak Poh Fatt, Asia Pacific business line manager of Faro said: “Given the sophisticated nature of 3D laser scanning technology, many people automatically assume that it is costly to adopt. However, with technological advancement, 3D laser scanning has become much more affordable, making it possible to pack more features in a compact device.”
The rest of the world seems pretty convinced with this argument. According to MarketsandMarkets, global sales in the 3D scanning market is expected to grow from an estimated US$2.06 billion in 2013 to US$4.08 billion by 2018 at an estimated compound annual growth rate of 14.6 percent.
With such market potential, it is no surprise that developers are willing to invest significant resources into R&D to bring out better products year after year.
In Southeast Asia however, things are not so straightforward. The notion of advanced technology is well and good but not quite enough to convince people to open their cheque books. For smaller players to seriously consider adopting such technologies, it must be seen as ‘attainable’ and ‘feasible’.
The Tide Turning?
In order to persuade people that the technology is ‘attainable’ and ‘feasible’, the issues of affordability and productivity must be addressed. Metrology solution providers are working on it and one of them is sensing a change in mindset slowly gathering pace in Southeast Asia.
“The adoption of laser scanning technology in Southeast Asia has been rapid across a number of industries. From our experience, once manufacturers understand how the technology can work for them, the conversion rate is high. For them, the benefits of productivity, ease of use and portability are clearly attractive,” said Mr Mak.
This trend is showing no sign of abating as far as he is concerned.
“Based on our observations, the market is hungry for information and manufacturers are ready to invest. Often, they are interested to learn about 3D technology and how they can adopt it. As mentioned, conversion rates are high and it does not take them too long to decide to purchase the device. For those reasons, we think that numbers for Asia will climb rapidly in the next three years.”
Improvements In 3D Laser Scanning
Mr Mak’s colleagues at the R&D department seem to agree with him because Faro has developed a 3D laser scanner that has a scanning range of almost three times more than the previous models. With the faro Laser Scanner Focus3D X 330, it can now scan objects up to 330 m away and in direct sunlight.
With its increased range and scan accuracy, the scanner reduces the effort involved in measuring and post-processing. The 3D scan data can be imported into all commonly used software solutions. Finally, the developer added that distance dimensions, area and volume calculations, analysis and inspection tasks and documentation can be carried out quickly, precisely and reliably.
3D Laser Scanning For Metalworking
The improvements look good on paper but how can the technology be used in a meaningful manner in the metalworking arena? The answers may well lie in the non-tactile nature of the operation that is capable of generating accurate readings in the most inhospitable places or surfaces.
“It (Focus3D X 330) is suitable for users who need high levels of detail and precision in their 3D models, as well as for users who require a non-contact form of measurement for objects of interest that cannot be touched (eg: objects at extreme temperatures, objects of extreme plasticity or malleability, or objects of large scale).
Typically, manufacturers who require dimensional inspections of large or complex components, rapid prototyping, or reverse engineering of products will find the technique of 3D documentation helpful and accurate,” said Mr Mak.
Scanning Across Industries
Far from being an exclusive item only for experts in surveying or metrology, Mr Mak went on to highlight the technology’s versatility across various industrial verticals.
“Laser scanners have a multitude of applications in a variety of industries. Improvements on 3D laser scanners have made them versatile, able to withstand both indoor and outdoor conditions. Within the Asia Pacific region, our laser scanners are more intensely used by customers from the oil & gas and shipbuilding industries at the moment,” he said.
Quoting an example, he revealed that in the shipbuilding segment, 3D laser scanning is deployed for welding analysis of ship components. It also allows the accuracy of constructed steel hull checked against the CAD design.
Staying in this industry, 3D laser scanners also play a role in the retrofitting of ballast water treatment systems in international ocean-going ships. Typically, the ballast water treatment system goes into the engine room or pump room of a ship. The installation of a new and large system to a functioning ship involves a great deal of time and effort because of the complicated piping systems and machinery already present.
The traditional method of creating detailed drawings requires manual measurements to replicate the actual site layout. Any remodeling to accommodate the new system will have to be done based on these manually-produced drawings. This entails numerous on-site inspections of the ship, and enormous amounts of design time. In addition, limitations that come with manual measurements mean that a slight error on paper can turn out to be a much larger design fault during execution.
According to him, the use of Focus3D reduces the amount of on-site measuring time. The technicians used to take days to measure existing piping and facilities manually, but with the 3D laser scanner, it now takes them several hours to complete the task. In addition, the measurement points collected can be converted into 3D CAD data, making it possible to create 3D design drawings directly from the CAD data.
A New Way To Measure?
In the automotive industry where the usage of the laser scanner is not “as intense in the manufacturing process”, the application has been more prevalent in plant installation and verification purposes.
In fact, 3D laser scanning can trigger some kind of revolution in this segment. Mr Mak said Magnus Ronnang, a technical expert from the Volvo Cars Group spoke about the usage of 3D laser scanning in virtual manufacturing.
Mr Ronnang asserted that a paradigm shift is imminent, where reverse engineering from point clouds to CAD would no longer be necessary. Instead, point clouds would be used directly for a variety of manufacturing engineering purposes. CAD data would be used to represent new, non-existing artifacts.
With versatility that stretches across industries, and signs of changing attitudes in users in the region, it is anyone’s guess if 3D laser scanning will make an even bigger splash here in the near future.
While there may be a list of other reasons for not adopting 3D laser scanning technology in a typical measuring room in this region, the notion of the technology being ‘out of our league’ should not be on that particular list.