We often get asked if it’s possible to scan a physical part or component and recreate it with a CNC machine. The answer is yes, you can! Many of our users have reverse-engineered simple parts, like gaskets and seals, with Scan2CAD. Though the process can be quite complex, it’s a great way to recreate a part that is no longer manufactured or cannot easily be purchased off-the-shelf. In this article, we’ll help walk you through one of the most complicated parts of the process: converting your scan from raster to vector. Creating a good-quality CAD file is essential for ensuring good results, and the easiest way to create it is using Scan2CAD. Read on to learn how!
What is reverse engineering?
Reverse engineering is the reproduction of another manufacturer’s product based on a detailed examination of the product’s construction. This process usually involves taking apart a device to see how it works, or producing 3D images of the original part. It’s possible to reverse-engineer almost anything—a mechanical device, an electronic component, computer software or even organic matter! However, whilst some reasons for extracting design information can be socially beneficial (detecting vulnerabilities, or competitive analysis), other uses of reverse engineering are criminal (creating knock-off software or parts). Make sure, therefore, that you’re acting within the law when reverse-engineering a part.
What you need:
- A simple part you’d like to reverse engineer
- Access to a good quality scanner that can scan the dimensions you need
- A raster-to-vector converter like Scan2CAD
- A CNC machine (or access to a CNC machining service) — check out our guide to CNC kits for beginners for tips!
Bonus Video: How To Reverse Engineer A Tool
In this video, Luke will demonstrate how to take an image of a tool and convert it to an accurate vector outline.
Step 1: Scan the product
A critical element of the reverse engineering process is getting a good scan. Since we’re reverse engineering parts based on a 2D scan, you can only choose parts that have details in 2D. We’re only tracing part outlines here, so this technique won’t work for molded parts with extruding 3D detail. You should also take note of the requirements and limitations of your CNC cutting system. For example, the cut width of the tools in your CNC cutting system may limit the amount of detail you want to reproduce.
Step 2: Convert image to vector
Once upon a time, this would have been one of the most difficult parts of the process, as you would have had to trace over the image by hand. Thanks to Scan2CAD, it now takes just a few seconds. Simply open your scanned raster image file in Scan2CAD, choose the right vectorization settings, and convert your image in a few clicks! Here’s a quick and easy guide on how to convert your image from raster to vector.
Step 3: Check the vector file
New users sometimes make the mistake of expecting their converted vector image to be the finished article. Before machining your design, you’ll need to spend some time checking and cleaning your vector image. How long this takes will depend on the complexity of your image.
Once your image is cleaned up, save your image type using the CNC file format. This ensures that it can be fed into a CNC machine. If you’re not experienced with CNC, then consult with a CNC machinist, who will be able to advise you on the best steps to take for your design.
Want extra tips on how to convert to vector? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Raster to Vector Conversion! Plus, get great tips on turning your ideas into reality with CNC! Having some trouble? Visit our guide to common conversion problems.