3D Scanners Reproduce Real Life
The Bolton Works 3D scanner tackles a rooster.
CREDIT: Clayton Ashley / TechNewsDaily
Imagine a statue of a bird — immaculately carved, each feather as lifelike as the real animal's. As picturesque as the statue is, you only get one: It would take months for a sculptor to create another.
Or, you could just scan it and print out a flock of artificial birds. A 3D scanner — the natural complement to a 3D printer — can digitize any object, from knickknacks to complex medical equipment. Feed that data into a printer, and you can create perfect copies.
MakerBot, the company behind one of the most user-friendly 3D printers on the market, has its own consumer-grade 3D scanner on the horizon, although it will only capture statues or other objects of moderate size. The upcoming MakerBot Digitizer Desktop 3D Scanner (Digitizer, for short) can scan objects measuring up to eight-by-eight-by-eight inches.
The Digitizer targets mostly the hobbyist and enthusiast market. High-grade professionals often need to scan much larger objects. However, the technology on the Digitizer is exactly the same as that of its larger brethren.
MakerBot hopes that users who have invested in its Replicator line of 3D printers will pair it with the Digitizer. Although the company has not yet announced a price, it will probably be in line with MakerBot's standard 3D printer, which retails for $2,200. This is a pretty steep investment, but not out of
-reach for amateur artists or jewelers — especially those who run stores on Etsy or at craft fairs.
At the other end of the 3D scanning scale are industrial scanners, such as the ones employed by Bolton Works. This Connecticut-based company uses enormous scanners that retail for $150,000 and are accurate enough to recreate an object almost flawlessly. [See also: 8 Creepiest 3D Printed Objects]
Ryan Bowman, an engineer at Bolton Works, describes an industrial Steinbichler 11M scanner: "You're looking at scanning a dime — literally, money," he explained.
Think of the minute detail on dime: This scanner can capture it. Because Bolton Works can both scan and print metal objects at extremely fine resolutions, it could create a false coin almost indistinguishable from a real one. Of course, this would be illegal — and getting together the relevant materials would cost considerably more than 10 cents — but it gives an indication of how precise this technology can be.
Bolton Works can also recreate much bigger objects. At the recent Inside 3D Printing Conference and Expo, Bowman demonstrated the company's scanner using a statue of a rooster that was approximately two feet high and two feet wide. Each time the scanner took a high-resolution photograph, its platform would rotate the rooster five degrees.
"Those two pictures will be placed over each other and matched," Bowman said. By overlaying each image on top of the other, the scanner creates a 3D composite that accurately captures both the size and depth of the object.
Bolton Works' lack of size restrictions has let it tackle some interesting projects. One sculptor in Kansas contracted the company to scan four abstract works of art, each of which was five feet long and twelve feet high. Each sculpture resembled lava cascading down a layered wall and pooling on the ground. Although it took a day and a half of concentrated work to capture each sculpture, Bolton Works preserved the art in digital form, and could recreate it with a big enough printer.
MakerBot's upcoming scanner aimed at the consumer market may not quite reach the technological heights of Bolton Works’ solutions, but opening up the market to everyday consumers could pave the way for a whole slew of recreated pieces, from medical devices to machinery parts to objets d'art.