How Automotive 3D Scanning is Changing the Industry

Scanning a vehicle into a digitised 3D model would’ve sounded like science fiction just a decade or two ago. But today, automotive 3D scanning has become an established part of the industry — and it’s rapidly changing how automotive manufacture …

Ile Kauppila

November 11, 2021

Scanning a vehicle into a digitised 3D model would’ve sounded like science fiction just a decade or two ago. But today, automotive 3D scanning has become an established part of the industry — and it’s rapidly changing how automotive manufacture works.

It’s not hard to see why automotive manufacturers have embraced 3D scanning. This technology enables much faster design and production times and can drastically improve part accuracy. It can also open whole new possibilities for car part production, all the while cutting costs wherever you use it.

But what exactly is automotive 3D scanning? And how does it help automotive manufacturers? In this blog, we’ll provide answers to these questions.

What is 3D Scanning?

Picture how a traditional paper scanner works. You insert a sheet of paper into the machine, which reads and reproduces it as a digital copy. A 3D scanner does essentially the same thing, only with three-dimensional objects.

3D scanners project thousands of laser beams per second. When they hit a solid surface, the lasers reflect back towards the scanner. Based on these reflections, the scanner’s processor constructs a high-accuracy 3D model of the object without any physical contact.

Like many cutting-edge technologies, 3D scanning started out as laborious, expensive, and exclusive. But technological advancements have made it both easier and more affordable than ever. Today, a modern handheld 3D scanner is no bigger or heavier than a cordless electric drill you might have at home.

Advantages of Automotive 3D Scanning

Automotive companies have realized the industry-disruptive advantages modern 3D scanners’ accuracy and portable nature can bring. Here are just a few benefits UK automotive manufacturers have seen after adopting 3D scanning.

  1. Lower Costs: Cutting costs may not be the most significant advantage of automotive 3D scanning from a production perspective, but it’s definitely the one that catches the most attention. 3D scanning’s cost-lowering effect is the end result of all its other advantages. You’ll be able to design, prototype, test, and manufacture car parts faster, which results in a shorter time to market and lower production cost.
  2. Faster Design Cycle: 3D scanning saves design time in many different ways. If you’re designing parts based on existing products — whether whole cars or single components — you can simply scan them to ensure proper fit. As another example, you can mill dies directly from 3D scan data, reducing production time.
  3. Simpler Prototyping: You can streamline your prototyping workflow by using 3D scanners. For example, you can mill scale models based on the scan data, or even 3D print demonstration models. 3D scans also make it easy to compare data between design iterations, which reduces the number of prototype cycles.
  4. Better Quality Control: You can use scanned automotive 3D models with powerful simulation software to conduct airflow, fluid dynamics, part strength, or other analysis processes. This way you can easily identify design flaws and improvement opportunities in car parts — or the entire assembled car, for that matter.

Automotive 3D Scanning Applications

We’ve now covered some of the indisputable advantages of 3D scanning technology. But how do automotive manufacturers apply it? After all, you can tout a production method’s benefits all day long, but only way to truly appreciate it is seeing it in practice.

Let’s take a look at a number of applications where 3D scanning shines.

Product Design

Engineers at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David were attempting to create a more aerodynamic profile for the Dallara F399/01 F3 racing car. Manual measuring methods didn’t produce accurate enough results for their purposes. However, a 3D scanner allowed the engineers to create an accurate 3D model of the car.

As a result, they could precisely design a front wing that improved speed both on straights and in curves. To top it all off, the new part is cost-effective to manufacture.

While this example is of a race car, you can easily apply the same process to street legal vehicles. Simply scan the car and you can always ensure your parts are a perfect fit.

Simulation and Quality Control

Accurate and high-quality parts are crucial in this industry. As mentioned, thanks to 3D scanning, automotive manufacturers can run comprehensive tests on their parts without a physical product. Volkswagen, for instance, has used 3D scanning to analyse warping of car interior parts to create more durable components.

The technology has much to offer for independent part manufacturers as well. One engine manufacturer, for example, used it for dimensional analysis to ensure their cylinder cover fit the intended engine perfectly.

Reverse Engineering

Picture a gearhead who owns a classic car or motorcycle that’s been out of production for decades. Suddenly, an engine part breaks and they need a spare. Where in the world can they find a replacement?

The answer is, from a company that has 3D scanned the original part and can now produce spares based on that data. In addition, 3D scanning can help companies who produce custom parts for modern vehicles. All they have to do is scan the original part to reverse engineer a better-performing replacement.

Designer, Patrick Nguyen and his team at Patritti Design Performance at Porsche used handheld Peel 3D Scanning to reproduce and remodel.

3D Printing

Additive manufacturing is becoming increasingly popular. With 3D printers, automotive manufacturers can quickly produce parts on demand and replace traditional materials with lighter and more durable plastics, among many other things.

In the best-case scenario, you may be able to print 3D scans directly without any further modifications. Even if you need to do some fixes to bring the model to a printable condition, modern print preparation programs make the task simple and automated. Major car makers, like Ford and Porsche, have embraced 3D printing, and the technology has much to offer for any automotive company.

Marketing

3D scanning can even help you market your automotive products. Instead of staging an expensive photoshoot, you can scan the car into a 3D model.

This enables you to insert a realistic 3D recreation of the car into advertisements or commercials. You could also use the model on your website to showcase, for example, customization options.

How to Start Using 3D Scanners

You may by now be interested in how your automotive operation can start utilising 3D scanners. It’s actually quite simple to get started. And we have good news if you wonder how much 3D scans cost — not much.

The easiest method is to hire a 3D scanning service. A scanning service is the ideal option if you only need to scan one or two parts, or if you’re simply checking out the technology.

If you’d like to get more hands-on experience with 3D scanning, you can always rent a 3D scanner. Renting allows you to use the scanner yourself and explore the technology in greater detail. It’s a good option for manufacturers who occasionally need to 3D scan multiple parts.

Finally, you can always buy your own 3D scanner if you know you’ll be regularly scanning lots of parts. Handheld 3D scanners for the automotive industry are fairly affordable and as such usually provide a quick ROI. The only consideration is what kind of a scanner you should buy.

Large parts, like an entire car chassis, don’t have as many details as smaller ones. However, you need a scanner that can get the job done quickly. Scanners like Peel 2 CAD can scan medium to large objects quickly while still producing good detail quality.

For small, more intricate parts, consider a scanner such as Peel 2 CAD-S, that can catch details as small as 0.1mm. If even that’s not accurate enough for your application, opt for a metrology-grade scanner, like Creaform HandySCAN, that can catch details as tiny as 0.035mm. At that point, even a spec of dust can show up in your scan.

To learn more about automotive 3D scanning, ask our team of helpful experts at SolidPrint3D. Call us on 01926 333 777 or email us at info@solidprint3d.co.uk.

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