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Best software for reverse engineering reviewed by Artec 3D

Nov. 03, 2022
12 min read
275
summary

You can learn a great deal about an object by taking it apart and putting it back together. This process is, in essence, how reverse engineering works. And while dismantling and reassembling can tell you what you need to know about how something was made or how it works – and subsequently, how to replace, improve, or analyze parts – it’s essential to get accurate measurements of the parts. This is when 3D scanning comes into play. And the best way to create reliable CAD models from 3D scan data? Using the best reverse engineering software. With that in mind, here’s our selection of the finest tools ready to come to the rescue.

Software
Artec Studio, Meshmixer, Artec Metrology Kit, Design X, Geomagic for SOLIDWORKS, SpaceClaim
Platforms
Windows, macOS, Linux
Price range
Free to €18,000

Introduction

Best software for reverse engineering

 

What can you do to analyze existing parts or tools, and to understand how exactly they were made? How do you gain a clear understanding of the way a machine or a system functions? The answer to all these questions: reverse engineering. It allows us to dismantle an object to see how it works – or to find ways to improve the item, or to create a replica. Reverse engineering may also often require digitizing the precise geometry of a physical object as quickly and accurately as possible. And thanks to the innovative technology we have today, we are able to reverse engineer virtually anything – from the tiniest, most specific industrial part, to a larger structure or construction rig.

This varied application of reverse engineering is key for product improvement, customization, and reconstruction; it is extensively used in manufacturing, aerospace, and automotive industries. Reverse engineering includes tasks as diverse as recreating or copying inaccessible or unavailable parts, inspecting objects for quality control, or assessing the potential of a competitor’s product.

How does it work? A typical reverse engineering workflow entails measuring an object to acquire data, which is followed by data processing and further CAD design work. Modern reverse engineers have an impressive array of tools at hand to aid their work through the process – and this includes reverse engineering software.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the best reverse engineering tools, while exploring the steps that make up a reverse engineering workflow.

Data acquisition and processing for reverse engineering

Much can be said about capturing data for reverse engineering and how it’s done. For the purpose of this article, we will focus on the leading methods utilized today: 3D scanning, photogrammetry, CMM machines, and CT scanning. Each of these technologies has been chosen based on the industry or application it is primarily used in. We will also present any time and budget constraints that may prove to be a valuable consideration.

KEY POINT

While capturing data for reverse engineering can be done both manually and digitally, the most popular methods are 3D scanning, metrology-grade photogrammetry, CMM machines, and CT scanning.

When it comes to reverse engineering a finished product or part, 3D scanning could be your best choice – it’s the quickest and easiest way to turn a physical object into a CAD model. Since a 3D scanner does not directly generate CAD models (it outputs point clouds or mesh data) you’ll need to utilize modeling tools for the next stage in this process: a workflow known as Scan-to-CAD, a semi-automated process during which professional software converts 3D data into an editable and design-ready CAD file.

The precise surface measurements provided by a 3D scanner are vital in this process. In fact, 3D scan data helps you leverage knowledge acquired from the real-world object, and digitally represent it most accurately. Data captured with the help of professional 3D scanners then takes the form of a usable 3D model, which renders the most thorough geometry of an object or a scene.

While CT scanners and CMM machines are often expensive, difficult to move around, and time-consuming in terms of training, 3D scanners are quite the opposite: reverse engineering benefits a lot from this speed, versatility, and ease of use.

There are various methods in 3D scanning technology used for capturing point clouds, with optical-based 3D scanning being by far the most popular. Optical-based 3D scanning is a non-destructive process that digitally captures and replicates an object projecting structured light and laser beams onto it.

The scanning software tools available today are diverse: from smartphone apps to smart 3D imaging programs that vary greatly according to operating systems, ease of use, and price. In any case, one of the hallmarks of well-developed software is that it should not take a long time for a user to get the hang of it. Ultimately, what matters most is that all the work you put into capturing data is translated into results with great accuracy, high resolution, and excellent quality.

Metrology-grade photogrammetry is another measuring technique that combines photos from different angles to form a 3D point cloud. A metrology-grade photogrammetry kit should consist of targets (adhesive or magnetic), scale bars, reference crosses, and a powerful camera. Using a 3D scanner with a kit like this could be a good solution if you need to create a highly accurate 3D model. The 3D point cloud created with photogrammetry can be aligned with the 3D mesh you obtain after 3D scanning the object – it is the combination of both which helps achieve higher accuracy.

KEY POINT

For any measuring technique, user-friendly software is paramount to successfully completing the process.

Software tools

Artec Studio

PRICE
  • 30-day free trial
OS

Windows

PROS
  • Boosted algorithms for maximum accuracy and speed when scanning
  • Excellent texture and geometry tracking algorithms
  • Scans can be fitted with CAD primitives
CONS
  • A full-package software might be needed for a complete range of reverse engineering tools
Best software for reverse engineering

 

A smooth 3D scanning experience should be intuitive and time saving. When scanning is complete, being able to then seamlessly process your 3D scan data is the next step towards creating high-quality 3D models. To do all this and achieve excellent results, an intuitive workflow and user-friendly software is essential – which makes Artec Studio exactly what you need.

While processing data in Artec Studio, you can either choose Autopilot, a smart mode with much of the work done for you, or manual mode for versatility and full control. Autopilot takes charge of the entire process and prompts every next step, whereas manual mode allows flexibility for more experienced users. Whichever path you choose, you are guaranteed precision and high accuracy.

Artec Studio is designed specifically to streamline your reverse engineering workflow with such advanced features as Boolean operations, enabling you to alter models with CAD entities and meshes. In turn, the cutting-edge Auto Surface tool helps you turn organic shapes into a solid CAD model. Professional yet easy to use, this industry-acclaimed 3D scanning software from Artec 3D also boasts high-speed alignment, a new mesh-splitting tool, and an improved Segment brush.

KEY POINT

Artec Studio has all the key scan-to-CAD functionality for reverse engineering, and for a complete range of reverse engineering tools. It can be paired with a full-package software such as Geomagic Design X.

An all-in-one solution, Artec Studio provides you with every tool to create, resize, and reposition primitive solid shapes of your mesh. This complete Scan-to-CAD functionality allows reverse engineering operations to be carried out directly within the software. A key part of Scan-to-CAD is the use of CAD primitives: these are CAD-ready objects that can match the geometry of your model, speeding up the process of turning it into a CAD file. This is available to you in Artec Studio, and by fitting primitives to your 3D model in the same software where you captured your data, you greatly accelerate the engineering process.

Artec Studio saves reverse engineering specialists much time and effort for further and more complex operations, too. Once you are done with scanning and processing, you can effortlessly export your model to the industry’s best reverse engineering software. Artec Studio’s CAD primitives greatly boost the reverse engineering workflow: with key geometrical data extracted and saved in any popular CAD format, you can export your meshes and CAD objects to Design X or Geomagic for SOLIDWORKS in just one click.

Autodesk Meshmixer

PRICE
  • Free
OS

Windows, macOS

PROS
  • Abundance of tutorials and user material
  • Extensive and user-friendly editing
  • Quick format adjustment
  • Reliable hollowing feature
CONS
  • May be too advanced for beginners
  • Requires a very capable graphics card and updated graphics card drivers
Best software for reverse engineering

 

What started off as a ‘hobby tool’ for the 3D printing community has transformed into a state-of-the-art software for working with mesh files: Meshmixer. Whether you need to tidy up a 3D scan, prepare your file for 3D printing, or perform additional operations on your model as part of the reverse engineering process, Meshmixer will have you covered.

With some practice, you will be able to manipulate your models with a great variety of tools. Simply drag your files into the edit space, then go ahead and adjust, cut, clean-up, repair, and mix 3D models. To use Meshmixer, you don’t need to be a tech expert, or to understand every last detail about the software. However, you will still need some time to explore the software’s basic functionalities to make use of its full potential.

Meshmixer tutorials are available online, so you can quickly learn about all the nuances related to mesh modification. Whether you are a newbie or an experienced reverse engineering specialist, you will soon feel right at home with this software.

Artec Metrology Kit

PRICE
OS

Windows

PROS
  • Compatible with top-tier software solutions like Geomagic Control X, PolyWorks, and more
  • Accuracy of up to 2 microns
CONS
  • Requires at least a basic understanding of metrology-grade photogrammetry workflow
Best software for reverse engineering

 

A holistic technology in the form of an optical coordinate measuring system, Artec Metrology Kit is valuable for industrial applications. The Metrology Kit can be easily integrated into reverse engineering, testing, or inspection workflows both in and outdoors. Whether you choose to use it as a standalone optical measurement solution or as a referencing tool for making the most of 3D scanning, you get guaranteed high-precision results.

One impressive way of using the Metrology Kit is to combine its photogrammetry results with the data captured with one or a combination of Artec 3D scanners. The volumetric accuracy, in this case, can go up to 15 µm/m. With a robust device like Artec Leo, this will be up to 3x the volumetric accuracy across a one-meter scan and up to 14x across 15 m. Another good news is that with the Metrology Kit plugin, your 3D scanning plus photogrammetry workflow is outright inside Artec Studio.

For objects as diverse as mechanical parts, aircraft components, boats, vehicles, or even wind turbines, the Metrology Kit can be a perfect measuring solution when you need impeccably accurate measurements or comparisons with 3D meshes or CAD entities. The Kit’s straightforward process enables you to integrate photogrammetry results into your workflow, keeping the efforts minimal, and the results precise.

CAD design work: master stroke

Your next step depends on what the end goal of any reverse engineering process is to you. After scan data processing, you can either use your model for reproduction or continue analyzing and transforming it in a reverse engineering CAD program.

It is at this stage that you will be able to perfect or customize your digital model, which usually means detecting intricate flaws or asymmetries, modifying your model by adding new features or converting scanned 3D models into history-based feature models.

KEY POINT

One way to complete your reverse engineering process: bring your 3D model over to a CAD program for converting a mesh object into a 3D solid

Fitting CAD primitives to your digital model beforehand allows you to easily export models as CAD objects for use in any reverse engineering software. Have a look at some of the best programs you can use to finalize your reverse engineering process.

Geomagic Design X

PRICE
OS

Windows

PROS
  • Unique software combining parametric CAD with 3D scan data processing
  • Possibility to add new components to your preferred CAD systems through export into SOLIDWORKS, Siemens NX, Autodesk Inventor, PTC Creo, and Pro/Engineer
CONS
  • The software comes with quite a high price tag – but for that you get the best of the best
Best software for reverse engineering

 

Geomagic Design X is the ultimate solution for turning 3D scan data into feature-based CAD models. Created with the combined knowledge and expertise of Rapidform and 3D Systems, this software has in recent years remained unrivaled. Whether you need to scan a physical object to create a new part or subassembly, or to completely remodel a part as a parametric model, this outstanding platform has much to offer. Geomagic Design X effortlessly (and automatically) creates planes, sketches, and features from scanned data. Feel free to export your CAD feature history to CAD software such as SOLIDWORKS, Solid Edge, Siemens NX Creo, Inventor, and Pro/Engineer to broaden your design possibilities and hone your model to perfection.

The Design X user interface is as intuitive as the SOLIDWORKS interface it was modeled after. A ribbon of icons across the top contains all the tasks you need: Points, Polygons, Regions, Alignment, Sketch, Exact Surfacing. On the left-hand side, you’ll find a list of the data you create – ponts, polys, surfaces, and sketches. The newest release of Geomagic Design X in 2022 brought in several useful new features, such as various sketch tools, enhancements to the LOft and Exact Surfacing Modeling tools, and replacing a target mesh.

KEY POINT

Geomagic Design X is an all-encompassing, industry-acclaimed reverse engineering software. This combination of feature-based CAD and 3D scan processing enables you to create editable solid models compatible with cutting-edge CAD software.

Geomagic for SOLIDWORKS

PRICE
  • Upon request
OS

Windows, macOS

PROS
  • Automated wizards easily create accurate sketches, surfaces, or feature-based editable models
  • Opens directly in SOLIDWORKS
  • Quick and easy 3D comparison (e.g. of a CAD object and a mesh object)
CONS
  • Too advanced for hobbyists and industry enthusiasts
Best software for reverse engineering

 

A superstar in the reverse engineering scene, Geomagic for SOLIDWORKS is a professional plug-in designed by 3D Systems. Its mission is to help you turn your 3D scans into editable CAD objects in a seamless workflow. Mesh editing, point cloud processing, and automatic feature extraction are only some of the useful tools Geomagic for SOLIDWORKS offers. This plug-in is a complete scan-to-CAD solution which allows you to create 3D models for reverse engineering at lightning speed. 

Geomagic for SOLIDWORKS is essentially a condensed version of Geomagic Design X, which opens directly in SOLIDWORKS. If you are a SOLIDWORKS user, you will find this especially convenient: You’ll be able to work with an interface you’re already familiar with while doing everything you need to do, all in one software.

KEY POINT

The industry’s most complete, integrated Scan-to-SOLIDWORKS solution, Geomagic supports a range of popular 3D scanners, quickly creates sketches, surfaces or feature-based editable solid parts, and reduces the time to build complex 3D models.

Many 3D scanners are integrated with Geomagic for SOLIDWORKS, so you can easily import the existing scan data. The plug-in’s user experience remains straightforward, thanks to a familiar linear workflow and an intuitive toolbar. The data you end up with, whether an imported mesh or a point cloud, can be used for downstream work with Geomagic’s reverse engineering algorithms.   

This plug-in is perfect for easily addressing challenges such as lost design data, lack of CAD drawings for an old part, or having to recreate any physical part that is worn or broken.

SpaceClaim

PRICE
  • Upon request
OS

Windows, Linux

PROS
  • Innovative software with user-defined capabilities
  • Simulation prep time reduced
  • Lightweight 3D modeling for reverse engineering new parts
CONS
  • Simulations require a lot of processing power, software is memory-intensive
Best software for reverse engineering

Image source: Ansys/YouTube

SpaceClaim is standalone software, designed to help engineers create solid bodies from scratch. Very efficient in handling STL files, SpaceClaim utilizes a direct modeling approach. You can easily refine noisy scans and modify scanned components you are unsatisfied with. The platform also enables you to remove any geometry problems and challenges commonly encountered when working with CAD operations, such as model editing or defeaturing.

KEY POINT

Designed by engineering simulation specialists, Ansys SpaceClaim is a great tool for accelerating geometry preparation and defeaturing CAD models.

For engineers who don’t have much time to learn sophisticated or traditional CAD systems, Ansys SpaceClaim is a great solution, as it provides you with tools like Skin Surface – a method for auto surfacing solid geometry from prismatic or authentic shapes. This, in turn, makes it possible to reconstruct surface data from very different scans, regardless of their integrity. You can also cut down simulation prep time and focus on simulation results instead. 

An industry-level CAD tool, SpaceClaim will come in handy at any stage of your CAD workflow. With all possible file prep functionalities, the platform enables you to accelerate geometry preparation, proceed to analysis faster, and save time before simulation. If you don’t have the inclination to explore CAD systems in depth, this solution offers a gentle learning curve, which could be a good option for you.

The next big step

Reverse engineering has revolutionized many industries, with its capabilities ranging from transforming daily routines to enhancing national security.

And nothing speeds up the reverse engineering process like 3D scanning technology – with its help, you can digitize any object in minutes, turn it into a picture-perfect 3D model, and bring an even better version of it back to the physical world. Soaring precision, lightning-fast item analysis, and your ability to make any necessary alterations are what makes 3D scanning irreplaceable for reverse engineering.

To that end, the best reverse engineering software in combination with industry-grade 3D scanners is the real power for product designers and manufacturers across the globe.

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WRITTEN BY:
varvara

Varvara Koneva

Tech reporter