3D Scanning Services and Equipment

3D Scanning Terminology

3D Scanning Terminology

3D Scanning – The process of collecting 3-Dimensional data from a physical object through a variety of data acquisitions devices such as portable CMM arms, Structured light systems and long range laser based systems.

3D to CAD – Converting 3-Dimensional point cloud data, acquired through contact and non-contact based data capture systems, to a feature based, dimensionally defined graphic model.


Absolute vs Incremental Encoders – Absolute encoders are able to determine where they are located in space without having to tell them or “home” them like incremental encoders.

Accuracy – The extent of how close a measurement is to the recognized true value.

Airfoil Gauge – A physical gauge used to verify dimensional data on an airfoil shape. Typically restraining the airfoil at 6 locations. This can also be accomplished virtually in software packages such as Polyworks or Geomagic.

Animation – Movement of an object with a 3 dimensional space. Creating movement of a three dimensional object relative to a frame of reference.

Annotation Models – A digital model containing specific coordinate locations verifying deviations from nominal data.

Artec Scanner –  a portable, handheld white light projection scanner that captures 3D geometry along with the ability to overlay high resolution textural data.

As Built – Defining a 3D model within the closest possible tolerance constraints achievable with CAD based modeling. This is typically done using NURBS (spline) based modeling. This preserves all inconsistencies in the physical part that may be important for downstream development

AS IS CAD – A CAD model that represents actual manufactured parts rather than a designed CAD model.


BIM (Building Information Modeling) – BIM refers to the Integration of multiple infrastructures such as Water, Power, Electric, structural, and Architectural. Using all of the facets to create a useable and easy to follow model.

CAD – (Computer-aided design) The use of computer technology to assist in the creation, analysis, or modification of a design.

CAD/CAM – (Computer Aided Manufacturing)-Described as software that can support both machining and 3D CAD modelling capabilities.

CMM – (Coordinate Measuring Machine) A device used for measuring the physical characteristics of an object using a tactile probe, typically spherical in shape. The position of the machine is determined by defining X, Y & Z directional coordinates.

Cone Beam – A conical-shaped x-ray beam that produces two dimensional images of an object. These two dimensional images are then interpolated to make 3D point cloud data.

Chord Length – A segment of a line that has both ends that reside along a circle. This is commonly used in airfoil measurement. It can be mathematically defined by the following equation: = 2√r2 - d2

CT Reconstruction – The process of converting two dimensional grayscale X-Ray images into voxel based 3D data. This process can also be used to separate materials based on densities.


Design intent – This is the process of taking a manufactured part with inherent process errors and making a 3d model that is true. (square, round, parallel, perpendicular, etc…)

Direct CAD TranslatorsA software plug-in that allows software to import native file formats from other CAD packages.

Envelope Modeling – Constructing CAD geometry around 3D data, typically scan data, to accurately define its maximum volumetric parameters. This allows other components to be designed around it to assure there are no physical interferences.

Exact Surfacing – Typically a spline, or NURBS, based model used to define a 3D point cloud or mesh. This is one of the most accurate types of surfacing and due to its accuracy, it will define imperfections in the physical part captured by the 3D scanner.


GD&T – (Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerancing) Features used for defining and communicating critical engineering tolerances by simulating hard gages.

Hand held scanner – Portable camera for capturing 3D imagery of objects. Data acquisition can be laser or structured light based.

Hybrid Model – Combining two different modelling processes to accurately define 3D geometry. This is commonly achieved using NURBS data to define organic (complex) geometry and CAD to recreate prismatic features.

Hybrid modeling – Defining an object with a combination of NURBS Surface Modeling and Solid Modeling. The NURBS portion is generally used to model the areas of complex curvature, while the Solid Modeling is used for prismatic surfaces.

Intelligent Based Modeling – Defining a CAD model using dimensional constraints typically back to a defined origin. This allows the model to be adjusted dimensionally and maintain the models integrity.


Laser Scanner – A device used to capture 3D surface geometry, consisting of a laser output and a sensor to interpret the data. Spatial position can be defined through a series of devices, including CMM, portable CMM, handheld and time of flight LIDAR systems.

LIDAR – A combination of the words: “Light” and “RADAR.” A Lidar scanner employs RADAR’s technique of emitting a signal and measuring distances to objects based off of the signals reflection. Unlike RADAR, a Lidar scanner uses laser pulses instead of radio waves.

Long Range Scanning – Acquiring data at expansive distances from hundreds of feet away to miles away. Data can be captured through a variety of devices including LIDAR, Time of Flight and phase shift scanners.


Measurement Uncertainty – The numeric value of uncertainty that could exist when measuring. Different factors may include, temperature, air pressure, humidity, and encoder accuracy.

Metrology – The science of quantifying and establishing measurement.

Microfocus – Used in CT (Computed Tomography), it refers to the high resolution capture of two dimensional images.

Modeling – Digitially creating a 2D or 3D object using CAD or data manipulation software, such as Geomagic or Solidworks. This includes creating CAD models from scratch or generating surface geometry over existing 3D scan data.

NanoCT – Capturing images using CT (Computed Tomography), with a resolution of the images defined in nanometers.

Nano Focus – Concentrating the x-ray beam from a CT (Computed Tomography) to provide 2D cross sectional images at a nanometer resolution.

Ordered Data – Refers to equal point spacing when capturing 3d point clouds. This typically provides a clean 3D data set for downstream data manipulation. Spacing can be controlled using filter settings in the data acquisition software or after data has been captured.


Parametric Model – A sketch driven model that builds a design tree that can be opened in a CAD environment and allows the operator to manipulate the model.

Parametric Modeling – This process is taking 3d scan data and through the use of design tools, creating a sketch driven model with consistent relationships between features in the feature tree.

Phase Based Scanners – Lidar Scanners that take measurements by sending laser pulses towards an object and measuring the phase shift of the pulses’ reflection off of the object.

Point Cloud – A set of points defined by X, Y, and Z coordinates that represent the external surfaces of an object.

Polygonal Model or STL – Polygonal models, or also known as meshes, are shapes composed of various sized triangles or vertices. These triangles are made by taking raw data and ‘connecting the dots’ to create a faceted mesh. This also simplifies the many points and removes any redundancies within a filtered criteria and reduces file size. This file format can be used in 3d printing, FEA, and flow predicting softwares.

Portable CMM – A portable CMM (coordinate measuring machine) is a mobile device used to quantify distances between objects in 3D space. Data capture can be achieved using tactile hard probes or embedded laser scanners.

Prismatic Modeling – Creating CAD geometry using basic geometry shapes, i.e planes, cylinders, cones etc, to define correct shapes of the 3D geometry. This can also be used to override imperfections in the physically scanned object such as shrink or warping.


Raw point data – A group of un-manipulated individual points collected during 3D Scanning or CMM probing. Each point contains a dimensional X, Y & Z location relative to the position of the hardware capturing the geometry. The point cloud may also contain the I,J & K positional values and color R, G & B data.

Re-Engineering – The process of modifying an existing part or assembly of parts digitally to improve its performance or use. This can be accomplished by integrating 3D scan data to better understand a components function, or using a CMM to verify its accuracy to optimize its performance.

Repeatability – The variation in measurements taken with the same piece of equipment, under the same conditions, across multiple tests.

Resolution – The smallest increment in which a sensor can measure and identify features in a 3D scan.

Reverse Engineering – The process of extracting design or as-built information from a part or assembly of parts in order to duplicate or enhance them.

ROMER – An articulating portable CMM arm constructed by Hexagon Metrology. The CMM ‘arms’ are typically used to collect individual point data, feature data, or collect scanning data for inspections or modelling.


SCAN to CAD – The process of collecting 3D data using 3D scanning hardware and converting the dimensional data to CAD format using a variety of software packages.

Scan to print – A phrase used to describe a common manufacturing technique in which an object is captured using 3D scanning hardware or modeled in 3D and subsequently duplicated on an additive manufacturing system. Data can now be printed in a variety of plastic, metals and even sand.

2D Drawings / Schematics – A 2D print that describes the physical characteristics of an object, how it should be made, assembled, handled, etc. These can be used to provide basic dimensional values to define its function.

Sectioning – The process of creating 2D profiles through sections of an object. These are typically defined by splines or line/arc segments.

Short range scanning – A process used to collect dimensional data in 3D space from short ranges(Romer arm/white light scanner). These distances are set by the limitations of the equipment being used.

Solid Modeling – Defining an object with CAD tools such as extrudes, revolves, sweeps, etc. A solid model is enclosed and is said to have mass and volumetric values can be calculated.

SPC – SPC (statistical process control) is a method of quality control, helping to monitor and optimize a manufacturing process. It helps to recognize different trends throughout the process ie. tool wear, by analyzing multiple pieces during the process.

Structured Light – Projecting a known pattern of light grids or fringe onto an object in order to calculate surface geometry by analyzing the distortions of the pattern. The variations in the grid or fringe are calculated using stereo cameras to output the correct surface topography of the scanned object.

Surface Model – An objects exterior skin defined by CAD features or NURBS surfaces.

Surface Profile – Surface profile is a tolerance zone given to a surface defined by a combination of geometric controls. The entire surface must not deviate outside the tolerance stated. This is key in finding the form and location of the surface of a part.

Survey Control – Target points that are used for repositioning either laser trackers or long range laser scanners allowing operator to leap frog around a part or building.


Time of Flight Scanners – Scanners that take measurements by sending a laser pulse towards an object and measuring the time taken by the pulse to be reflected off the object and returned to the source.

Topographic Model – A geometric representative of elevation of an object, for an example a mountain range. Defined in 3D, height, and special dimensions can be calculated from a defined origin.

Tracker – A Portable Coordinate Measurement Machine (CMM) utilizing a laser beam to establish distance and glass encoders to read azimuth & elevation angles. Capable of holding extremely high accuracies in very large volumes.

Transmission Target – A tungsten covered target that is positioned at the end of a x-ray tube used to ensure high magnifications.

Triangulation Scanner – Projecting a known pattern of light grids or fringe onto an object in order to calculate surface geometry by analyzing the distortions of the pattern. The variations in the grid or fringe are calculated using stereo cameras to output the correct surface topography of the scanned object.

Tru-View – A web based software that uses the scan data from each scan station set up to create an interactive scan world that you can move around. This is a very helpful tool to companies that have multiple buildings or sites that are not easily accessible. With Tru-View you can be in the building right at your computer.


Volume Measuring (Piles and Basins) – This is the process used when trying to determine things such as piles of rocks at a quarry. 3d scan data of these objects are taken and specialized software can allow you to estimate volumes more accurately.

Volumetric – Pertaining to the measurement of volume of an object. In the reverse engineering process, it is commonly used to describe a type of CAD model that encompasses the maximum shape condition of an object. Allowing the designer to build clearance or mating parts.

Voxel – Represents a single data point on a uniformly spaced, three-dimensional grid. This is term is used in the conversion of 2D cross sectional images into 3D geometry in a CT (Computed Tomography) scanner.

White Light Scanner – A 3D camera projecting a known pattern of light grids or fringe onto an object in order to calculate surface geometry by analyzing the distortions of the pattern. The variations in the grid or fringe are calculated using stereo cameras to output the correct surface topography of the scanned object.

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