What To Expect From 3D Scanning, And How To Work With It

3D scanning and 3D printing may sound like a natural match for one another, but they don’t always play together as easily and nicely as one would hope. I’ll explain what one can expect by highlighting three use cases the average hacker encounters, and how well they do (or don’t) work. With this, you’ll have a better idea of how 3D scanning can meet your part design and 3D printing needs.

How Well Some Things (Don’t) Work

Most 3D printing enthusiasts sooner or later become interested in whether 3D scanning can make their lives and projects easier. Here are a three different intersections of 3D scanning, 3D printing, and CAD along with a few words on how well each can be expected to work.

Goal Examples and Details Does it work?
Use scans to make copies of an object.
  • 3D scan something, then 3D print copies.
  • Objects might be functional things like fixtures or appliance parts, or artistic objects like sculptures.
Mostly yes, but depends on the object
Make a CAD model from a source object.
  • The goal is a 1:1 model, for part engineering purposes.
  • Use 3D scanning instead of creating the object in CAD.
Not Really
Digitize inconvenient or troublesome shapes.
  • Obtain an accurate model of complex shapes that can’t easily be measured or modeled any other way.
  • Examples: dashboards, sculptures, large objects, objects that are attached to something else or can’t be easily moved, body parts like heads or faces, and objects with many curves.
  • Useful to make sure a 3D printed object will fit into or on something else.
  • Creating a CAD model of a part for engineering purposes is not the goal.
Yes, but it depends

In all of these cases, one wants a 3D model of an object, and that’s exactly what 3D scanning creates, so what’s the problem? The problem is that not all 3D models are alike and useful for the same things.

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3D Print A Piece Of Nintendo History Before The Real One Is Gone

Nintendo wasn’t always in the videogames business. Long before Mario, the company was one of the foremost producers of Hanafuda playing cards in Japan. From 1930 until 1959, Nintendo ran its printing business from a four-story art deco style building that featured distinctive plaques at the front entrance. We now have a chance to print those former Nintendo HQ plaques at home thanks to [Mr. Talida] who shared some 3D models on Twitter. Talida, a self-described “retro video game archivist”, recreated the plaques via photogrammetry from a number of reference photos he took from a visit to the Kyoto site late last year.

These 3D models come at a crucial time as the old Nintendo HQ building, which sat dormant for years, is set to be turned into a boutique hotel next year. According to JPC, the hotel will feature twenty rooms, a restaurant, and a gym and is expected to be completed by summer 2021 (although that estimate was from the “before” times). The renovation is expected to retain as much of the original exterior’s appearance as possible, but the Nintendo plaques almost assuredly will not be included. For a first-person tour of the former Nintendo headquarters building, there is a video from the world2529 YouTube channel provided below.

It is encouraging to see examples of this DIY-style of historical preservation. Many companies have proven themselves to be less-than-stellar stewards of their own history. Though if his Twitter timeline is any indication, [Mr. Talida] is up to something further with this photogrammetry project. A video export exhibiting a fully textured 3D model of the old Nintendo headquarters’ entrance was published recently along with the words, “What have I done.”

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OpenScan 3D Scans All Of The (Small) Things

The OpenScan project has been updated quite a bit since its inception. OpenScan is an open source, Arduino or Raspberry Pi-based 3D scanner for small objects that uses 3D printed hardware and some common electronic components to create 3D scans using photogrammetry; a process by which a series of still images from different angles are used to create a 3D point cloud of an object, which can then be used to generate a 3D model.

Feature visualization overlays detected features onto the camera preview to help judge quality. Broadly speaking, green is good.

Photogrammetry is a somewhat involved process that relies on consistent conditions, so going through the whole process only to find out the results aren’t up to snuff can be tiresome. Happily, OpenScan offers some interesting new functions such as feature visualization via the web interface, which helps a user judge scan quality and make changes to optimize results without having to blindly cross their fingers quite so much. OpenScan remains a one-person project by [Thomas], who is clearly motivated to improve his design and we’re delighted to see it getting updates.

Embedded below is a video that walks through the installation and web interface. It’s a fairly long and comprehensive, but if you like you can skip directly to [Thomas] demonstrating the interface around the 8:22 mark, or watch it below. Interested in your own unit? [Thomas] has an e-shop for parts and the GitHub repository is right here; the project also has its own subreddit.

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Handheld 3D Scanning, Using Raspberry Pi 4 And Intel RealSense Camera

Raspberry Pi 4 (with USB 3.0) and Intel RealSense D415 depth sensing camera.

When the Raspberry Pi 4 came out, [Frank Zhao] saw the potential to make a realtime 3D scanner that was completely handheld and self-contained. The device has an Intel RealSense D415 depth-sensing camera as the main sensor, which uses two IR cameras and an RGB camera along with the Raspberry Pi 4. The Pi uses a piece of software called RTAB-Map — intended for robotic applications — to take care of using the data from the camera to map the environment in 3D and localize itself within that 3D space. Everything gets recorded in realtime.

This handheld device can act as a 3D scanner because the data gathered by RTAB-Map consists of a point cloud of an area as well as depth information. When combined with the origin of the sensing unit (i.e. the location of the camera within that area) it can export a point cloud into a mesh and even apply a texture derived from the camera footage. An example is shown below the break.
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3D Print Your 3D Scanner

[QLRO] wanted a 3D scanner, but didn’t like any of the existing designs. Some were too complex. Some were simple but required you to do things by hand. That led to him designing his own that he calls AAScan. You can see the thing operating in the video below.

In general, you can move the camera around the object or you can move the object around while the camera stays fixed. This design chooses the latter. You’ll need a stepper motor with a driver board and an Arduino to make the turntable rotate. You also need a computer running Python and Meshroom. The phone also has to run Python and [QLRO] used QPython on an Android device.

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Custom Control Panels With Photogrammetry

One of the best applications for desktop 3D printing is the creation of one-off bespoke components. Most of the time a halfway decent pair of calipers and some patience is all it takes to model up whatever part you’re after, but occasionally things get complex enough that you might need a little help. If you ever find yourself in such a situation, salvation might be just a few marker scribbles away.

As [Mangy_Dog] explains in a recent video, he wanted to model a control panel for a laser cutter he’s been working on, but thought the shapes involved were a bit more than he wanted to figure out manually. So he decided to give photogrammetry a try. For the uninitiated, this process involves taking as many high-resolution images as possible of a given object from multiple angles, and letting the computer stitch that into a three dimensional model. He reasoned that if he had a 3D model of the laser’s existing front panel, it would be easy enough to 3D print some replacement parts for it.

That would be a neat enough trick on its own, but what we especially liked about this video was the tip that [Mangy_Dog] passed along about increasing visual complexity to improve the final results. Basically, the software is looking for identifiable surface details to piece together, so you can make things a bit easier for it by taking a few different colored markers and drawing all over the surface like a toddler. It might look crazy, but all those lines give the software some anchor points that help it sort out the nuances of the shape.

Unfortunately the markers ended up being a little more permanent than [Mangy_Dog] had hoped, and he eventually had to use acetone to get the stains off. Certainly something to keep in mind. But in the end, the 3D model generated was accurate enough that (after a bit of scaling) he was able to design a new panel that pops right on as if it was a factory component.

Hackaday readers may recall that when we last heard from [Mangy_Dog] he was putting the finishing touches on his incredible “Playdog Blackbone” handheld gaming system, which itself is a triumph of mating 3D printed components with existing hardware.

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Building A 3D Scanner With A 3D Printer

Using a 3D printer to make high quality parts is a great way to improve the look and appeal of any project. If you want to replicate something exactly, though, you’ll need either a very good set of calipers and a lot of time or a 3D scanner. Using the 3D scanner and the 3D printer go along very well together, especially if you use your 3D printer to build your 3D scanner too.

This project comes to us from [Vojislav] who spent the past two years perfecting this 3D scanner. Using a vast array of 3D printed parts, this build looks professional on every level. It also boasts a Raspberry Pi Zero and a fleet of camera modules, not to mention its own LED lighting. [Vojislav] has provided the printer files and the software needed to run it on the project page. It all runs through command line and python code, but that shouldn’t be a big hurdle.

While there is no video of it in action, it seems like all the parts are there for a solid 3D scanner, provided you have access to a 3D printer that can churn out the parts you’ll need. If you need something larger, there are some other options available as well that really take your photogrammetry skills to the next level.