What Is the Purpose of Reverse Engineering?

Engineering has come a long way over the years. The innovation and versatility of the industry have been highlighted with technological advances, leaving more room for creativity. With this comes the creation of products and processes that have never been seen before in the industry. 

Updated techniques mean innovation, but sometimes old processes and products are the more reliable option when a problem arises. Machine products and their parts rely on engineering processes that may be out-of-date. When new technologies are introduced, we need to shift our way of doing things, including how we approach existing products and processes.  

When something breaks, what do you do? You replace it. Much like any other system, engineering works in the same way. When a part or product breaks, you replace it. In engineering, however, replacing the broken component is a common process (rather than incurring costs of replacing the entire device). For older systems, processes, and products to remain intact, it is important to adopt a way of doing things that keeps those running, even when a part breaks.

Broken parts can range from new to decades old, meaning that we need to incorporate old parts into new processes by taking them apart and seeing how they work. Insert reverse engineering. Let’s take a look at what reverse engineering is as well as some of the common techniques involved in reverse engineering. 

Reverse Engineering 101

As a part of a team designing a new product, there is a lot of work and thought that goes into the design process, including how all of the parts will work together. When engineering a product or system, you’re putting it all together with the result being a product or system that is fully functional. Reverse engineering is the opposite. 

Also called back engineering, reverse engineering involves the deconstruction of a product, system, software, structure, etc. to extract design information of its components. When knowledge is limited about the components of a product and the parts that went into it or when these parts are no longer in production, we may find ourselves in a tough spot trying to repair something that is broken. Reverse engineering allows us to see the design differently. By taking everything apart, we get to see everything in the product piece-by-piece, layer-by-layer, step-by-step. 

Reverse engineering allows for you to do two things ━ In seeing how the individual parts work, we can incorporate past processes and technologies into new ones; and we can see what already exists (or did exist before something may have been discontinued). Examining products old and new from the inside out helps us to understand what already exists. This allows us to expand our engineering knowledge and capabilities with consistency. 

How Reverse Engineering Works

We know what reverse engineering is and how it can help push innovation in machine, software, system, and product building, but what are the steps taken in reverse engineering that set it apart from traditional research and engineering measures?

Information Extraction

Being knowledgeable about the product or system being reverse engineered is key. Studying its design and how its pieces fit together may involve breaking down the product into its component parts to extract more data. 

Modeling

Much like any diagram or instruction manual, the process of reverse engineering requires some type of imaging or modeling to describe each part and how it functions (or contributes to the product function as a whole). While this is relevant to the existing function of each component part, modeling and labeling each part and function allows for expansion of the original product and parts into something that is designed with new objects or systems in mind, i.e. the innovation behind reverse engineering. 

Review

Reviewing involves testing the model (as in any engineering format) to ensure it is realistic in comparison to the original/actual object, part, or system. After testing, the model can be used as a base for rebuilding the original object or part but with new and innovative techniques. 

The Purpose of Reverse Engineering 

The overall purpose of reverse engineering is to figure out how a part, object, or system works. Diving deeper, reverse engineering helps us to recreate these objects or create similar ones with new techniques or additions. Reverse engineering is often used as a cost-saving method or because the object or part is no longer in service or production (if something breaks). 

But what are some of the other practical applications of reverse engineering aside from rebuilding outdated parts and products?

Discovering Vulnerabilities

Reverse engineering can show us how parts and products work, but reverse engineering can also show us how those same parts and products don’t work. Finding faults within a part or product can be useful when it comes to the modeling and testing steps of reverse engineering. As we model and test the part or product, we may come to a fault or issue in how the part or product works. Fixing these potential issues during the modeling and testing (or research) phases will prevent these issues from occurring when the part or product has already been distributed. 

Creating Lower Costs and More Efficiency

Success is a key product of reverse engineering, and modern-day success gears towards minimizing expenses and maximizing efficiency. Success in engineering means creating a product that is effective both on the market and in how it is used. When the costs of creating a product are lower thanks to the research done during reverse engineering, that means the product can be listed on the market for a lower cost, resulting in more frequent purchasing and higher revenue. 

Bringing About Innovation

Reverse engineering gives way for innovation, whether it is in solving the problem behind a broken part or product or finding a new way of doing things. During reverse engineering, we have the opportunity to see things from a different point of view in a product or system. As we take things apart, we may find a different use for a part or a different way of rebuilding that may not have been thought of in traditional engineering or builds. This is the connection between old and new that is crucial for the future of every industry. 

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