Fraunhofer IGD Develops Real-Time Autonomous 3D Scanning System

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Vintage cars are cool, but they can also be troublesome, particularly when one of their parts breaks. When a car is no longer being manufactured, that means its parts are no longer being manufactured, either, which can make finding replacement parts quite a challenge. Today’s technology, however, makes it possible for vintage car owners to simply replicate those broken parts using a 3D scanner and 3D printer. That’s not quite commonplace yet, but that’s the vision that many have for the near future as Industry 4.0 becomes a reality – individual manufacturing with batch sizes of as little as one.

Researchers at Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research IGD have developed a new kind of 3D scanning system that makes this kind of single-part batch manufacturing more realistic.

“The special thing about our system is that it scans components autonomously and in real time,” says Pedro Santos, Department Head at Fraunhofer IGD.

So if a vintage car owner has a broken part, they can glue the part together and set it on a turntable, which sits beneath a robot arm with the 3D scanner on it. The robot arm moves the scanner around the part so that it can register the full geometry in as few passes as possible. This can take anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, depending on the size and complexity of the part. While the scan runs, intelligent algorithms create a 3D image of the object in the background. A material simulation of the 3D image then checks to see if a 3D print will satisfy the relevant stability requirements. The new component is then 3D printed.

It’s not so much the scanner itself that is novel, but the scanner combined with the view planning technology to form a fully autonomous system. The view planning technology was also developed by Fraunhofer IGD. During an initial scan, algorithms calculate what further scans are necessary so the object can be fully recorded in as few scans as possible. Therefore, the scanner can quickly and independently measure objects that are completely unknown to it. This is new – in the past, scanners have needed to be taught how to do this, or a CAD model of the component had to be available, making it possible to recognize the position of the object relative to the scanner. If you taught a scanner to scan a particular part for quality control, it would be easily able to scan 200 more of that part, but scanners aren’t well-suited to scanning batch sizes of one.

“By contrast, our scan system is able to measure any component, irrespective of its design – and you don’t have to teach it,” says Santos. “Also, you don’t need information about CAD models or templates – in other words, the specifications of standard forms that a component usually has.”

The autonomous 3D scanning system developed by Fraunhofer IGD allows for entirely new applications. It can be used as a manufacturing assistant to improve cooperation between machines and humans, which is the goal of the EU-funded Autoware project. The project involves the assembly of cylinders including pistons, casings and seals. Until now, the cylinders were assembled manually, and quality control was carried out with a printed checklist and manual measurements.

“Our 3D scanning system now enables robots — via comparisons with the database — to recognize what component it has in front of it and also to determine which component its human colleague needs next for assembly of the cylinder,” says Santos.

The machine also carries out the final quality control, scanning the cylinder to see if the dimensions are accurate. The Fraunhofer IGD researchers are also testing the entire chain from recording and visualizing to 3D printing. They will be presenting the system at Hannover Messe, which is taking place April 23-27. Visitors will be able to place objects under the scanner and watch them visualized in 3D on a monitor; they can also scan their own objects upon request.

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[Source/Images: Fraunhofer IGD]

 

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