What is Reverse Engineering? Physical Digital Reverse Engineering Services

It is a very common question asked, what is reverse engineering?

In mechanical engineering, the term reverse engineering (often abbreviated to RE) is used to summarise the process of reconstructing an existing object. When designing an object from scratch, an engineer will draw up a design specification and produce drawings from which the item is constructed.

Conversely, with reverse engineering, the design engineer starts with the final product and works through the design process in the opposite direction to arrive at the product design specification. During the process, vital information about the design concept and manufacturing methods is discovered.

The process of reverse engineering begins by gaining dimensional information of the object via 3D scanning, whether it is a mechanical component, a consumer product or an ancient artefact.

Reverse engineering involves acquiring three-dimensional positional data in the point cloud. There are many ways of gathering valuable dimensional information about the product, but using an accurate 3D measuring system is paramount. The accuracy of the data captured will impact the quality and deviation of the Reverse Engineered model when compared to the original.

Physical Digital uses the globally-recognised GOM 3D structured light scanning systems, which offer highly-accurate, traceable and repeatable measurement. The surface data captured is then passed to our in-house design team to establish the original design intent of the object.

What is Reverse Engineering used for?

Reverse engineering enables the duplication of an existing part by capturing the component’s physical dimensions, features, and material properties. There are a wide range of reasons for reverse engineering an object, including:

Legacy Components – For many components that were designed and manufactured years ago, there are no existing 2D drawings or 3D CAD data from which to reproduce the object. Here, reverse engineering is a vital means to gain the information to recreate the product.

Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) issues – If the OEM is no longer trading or has lost design measurements, then Reverse Engineering will supply the vital product information to continue manufacturing of that object.

Design Development, Part Testing & Analysis – Through reverse engineering, a 3D product can be quickly captured in digital form and remodelled or analysed in order to achieve improved design iterations.

Competitor Analysis – Any organisation can analyse competitor products through reverse engineering.

Bespoke and Ancient objects – Where there is no information about the dimensions of an object except for the physical item itself, the quickest and most reliable way to reproduce it will be by reverse engineering. Where a product is organic in shape (not a standard geometry such as cuboid or cylindrical), designing in CAD may be challenging as it can be difficult to ensure that the CAD model will be acceptably close to the sculpted model. Reverse engineering avoids this problem as the physical model is the source of the information for the CAD model.

Modern manufacturing – methods such as Additive Manufacturing rely on reverse engineering.

Digital Archiving – Museum pieces and historic artefacts can be captured through 3D scanning, then reverse engineered and the resulting CAD data can be held in case of any future damage to the object or any need to reproduce parts of the item.


Time and cost-effective way to produce models and products

The process of reverse engineering is particularly cost effective if the items to be reverse engineered represent a significant financial investment or will be reproduced in large quantities. Another advantage presented by reverse engineering is in compressing the product development cycle. In a highly competitive global market, manufacturers constantly strive to shorten lead-times to bring a new product to market. With reverse engineering, a 3D model can be quickly captured in digital form and remodelled if necessary or exported for a variety of manufacturing methods such as Additive Manufacturing, Vacuum Casting or CNC machining.

How to capture the data for Reverse Engineering 

Representing the geometry of the part in terms of surface points is the first step in creating parametric or free-form surfaces. A highly accurate and dense polygon mesh is created from the point cloud using the native measurement software or a dedicated reverse engineering software.

The added benefit of a photogrammetry system provides even greater certainty of the data captured for larger objects, such as entire aircraft or boats. Photogrammetry is a separate metrology system designed to capture reference points using multiple digital images, using a verified DSLR camera. The GOM 3D scanning system can use these reference points to extend the potential scanning area, which means it is possible to capture larger items, which can then be reverse engineered.

Reverse engineering process

Depending on the downstream application for the CAD model, different types of surfaces can be created. For example, this could range from producing a fully parametric CAD model which can be easily modified, which is likely to be required when undertaking redesign or optimisation. Compared to where the part is going to be remanufactured or analysed, when a clean representation could be employed.

Through the use of inspection software, analysis of the CAD model is performed and reported to the Client. This highlights the maximum deviations between the scan data and CAD model and documents that the requirements of the specification have been met.

Why do we use Computer Aided Design (CAD)? 

Through the use of various CAD and reverse engineering software, we can create accurate data for manufacturing, analyse how it will perform and improve existing designs.

CAD is used to create two- or three-dimensional (2D or 3D) graphical representations of physical objects. In product and industrial design, CAD is used mainly for the creation of detailed 3D solid or surface models, or 2D vector-based drawings of physical components. However, CAD is also used throughout the engineering process from conceptual design and layout of products, through strength and dynamic analysis of assemblies, to the definition of manufacturing methods. This allows an engineer to analyse design variants, to find the optimal design for manufacturing while minimising the use of physical prototypes