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June 25, 2014

3D Printing - Step Five - Scanning Things

It's all very well printing stuff out but what about creating models in the first place. Well, as I have previously mentioned getting to grips with some 3D modelling packages is quite a tortuous task, even for someone with quite a big head filled with high density brain matter and good techy skills. Scanners then. This is where we move to.

There are several types of scanner on the market, but they all do a very similar thing in that they emit a pattern with a laser and have a camera that sees this and works out how far way stuff is. The more you pay, the more complex the setup and the more accurate the scan. Here is my dream hand-held scanner. It is the Mantisvision F5-SR, swoon. It's also $45-60k... Unswoon. Ah well, when I'm big and growed up.

Is there anything at a more affordable price tag. Well, funnily enough, there are a few options.

At the cheap end you can use the Kinect camera that comes with your XBox. Here is a little instractable on how to set this up. This is a little bit on the hacky side for my likeing and the camera is not all that good resolution wise.

At the more expensive end of the cheap stuff you have the NextEngine 3D scanner. The downside here is that it scans in small sections and you seem to need special dots on the model to tell the software how to join the bits together. It's a bit clunky for my liking if you want to do anything bigger than a laptop sized object.

So, that really leaves this little beauty. At around £350 in the UK it has a much better resolution output than the Kinect, and had software that runs on PC and Mac pretty well... although I have had some issues on the Mac with it stopping the keyboard and mouse from working, or segmentation faulting in the software. You also have to 'activate' your scanner, but this is really just a way to get a code that will allow the software to access the scanner. Seems a bit odd, but it works pretty well. I'll see if I get shed-loads of spam. You only do it once though, and the same code will work ever install (so far).

The other upside for this scanner is that it works with the Microsoft Surface Pro 2... Sure that's an expensive add-on, but if you have one, and don't mind the heft, it's actually better than a laptop in terms of using the system... I'm working on a mount I can print to hold it easier... more on this in the next post.

I have only used this a few times for scanning small objects but overall it's actually quite an impressive little device, especially given it's price tag. The interface is very simple and works really well, but the scanning does have some issues. If you start too close you can lose the edges of your model, if you start too low you can lose the top of the model, so it would seem obvious that the size of the model should be defined by how stuff is added. The visual camera is used to determine differences in between frames to work out what's going on in the world and what object you're actually focusing on, but I should be able to get close to a model and get better definition by filling in the blanks. This might be how scanning bigger objects work, but I haven't experimented in this regard.

Overall though, I think this product has a lot of potential. For this reason I'm looking at working with a friend of mine for a day to get to grips with it, but also to come out at the end of the day with some art.

In my previous post I promised some more photos. So, here are some now. Not the greatest quality, but only to give you an indication of what happens:


Here are a few shots of the print as it comes off the printer, with all the structural support in place.


More on this soon.