Equipment for Reverse Engineering

Reverse engineering requires a number of pieces of specialized equipment to meet the broad needs of companies and individuals across a wide range of industries. The first and one of the most important specialized pieces of equipment is the scanning technology. Different scanners are used depending on the requirements of the subject being reverse engineered.

From there, the specialized software brings the scanned data and processes it into a model where technicians are able to evaluate and manipulate the model to decrease any error. Finally, the file containing the model is sent to production using the correct machinery for the job.

3D Scanners

A number of different types of scanners are used in reverse engineering. The scanning equipment used depends on the price and accuracy that is wanted and can include: 

  • Handheld or automatic laser scanners 
  • Coordinate Measuring Machines (CMMs)
  • CT Scanning
  • Long-range Scanning

Laser scanning

is often the cheapest method of scanning and is extremely useful for objects that can be described by simple geometric shapes like planes, spheres, cubes, etc. and the combinations of those shapes. Sometimes these shapes are said to have a prismatic geometry. Laser scanning can be used in some applications for non-prismatic geometries, but the ability to modify the model after scanning becomes much more time consuming and accuracy can be reduced. The plus-side of laser scanning is it tends to be cheaper and quicker with slight increases as the complexity of the piece increases.

Coordinate measuring machines

CMMs come in a few varieties. Some are optical scanners and thus are considered no-contact measuring and others have a probe that touches the object to take measurements. CMMs are able to collect a large amount of accurate data but at the tradeoff of being slower. CMMs can also be affected by some environmental factors, but those can be controlled for in most cases.

The data from CMMs are a cloud of points that are then run through special software that interprets all the points into a model that can then be analyzed for errors and tweaked to correct any issues. The additional time and accuracy mean this method is more expensive than forms of laser scanning, but the increase in price may be worth it given the geometry of the object.

Computed Tomography

CT scanning is one of the most accurate technologies available today, especially when it comes to reverse engineering. CT scanning uses x-rays to collect data from the external and internal measurements. It’s relatively fast; it doesn’t require the object to be physically broken down, and the scanned object is unharmed.

The ability to take the internal measurements can make this option a no-brainer compared to some of the other choices where it can be challenging to get those measurements. This method is more expensive because the cost of creating strong x-rays and necessary safety for technicians is not low, especially if dealing with thicker or heavier metals. Some of the capabilities of this method, however, make it well worth the additional cost.

Long range scanning has a different application that most of the methods already mentioned. Long range scanning gives the capability of scanning extremely large objects such as buildings, bridges, or entire machines. This method is able to collect data even in poor conditions such as low light. The data is pretty accurate and can be used to generate things such as blueprints.

These are just a few of the options available, even more exist, and technology is always advancing and creating new methods. Check with your professionals to find out what they have to offer.


Specialized software is used to interpret the data that is collected by scanners. The job of the software is to take a cloud of data points and connect them together with accuracy to form a digital model of the original object which can be loaded into a CAD program.

In most cases, the software also does error analysis that a trained technician can interpret to identify areas where checking and tweaking might be needed or useful. Most of the models allow for reasonable effort in making the modifications, though a few are quite challenging.

After the digital model has been finalized, it can be saved into a number of different file formats depending on the requirement of the final production of the new item. For example, the model may be saved as an STL file if it were going to be sent to a 3D printer.

Production Machinery

The production methods used for reverse engineering are the same that are available for machining a new design. 3D printing can be used for rapid production and prototyping of a part; milling, die casting, and even laser cutting can be used. Each machine having pros and cons given the object and the material you want it made out of.

The sheer options available in reverse engineering are exciting and can be a little overwhelming. The experts at Engineered Mechanical Systems can go over your options and help you make the best decisions for your budget and needs. Get in touch with them at