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Do Handheld 3D Scanners Make Reverse Engineering More Tedious?

While even the best portable 3D scanners have metrology-grade technology, easy-to-use software and the ability to scan small and large objects, they might not be what you’re looking for if you need the most precise scans for your manufacturing procedures. 

You need the right tool for the job.  Keep reading to see how handheld 3D scanners could be making reverse engineering more tedious in your industry...

The Process

Because reverse engineering allows researchers to deconstruct, manipulate or remodel objects in their digital twin form without having to test it out on real objects, research can be conducted with less of a time pressure for things such as medical findings and with more thoroughness for things such as new car technology that will provide a better driving experience than the competition.

Scan data can be used later down the road to reproduce the actual 3D printing of certain objects. Since the scanned data is viable, this means that the measurements taken must be clear and detailed. Oftentimes with handheld 3D scanners, the problem is that images lack the precision and clarity called for in certain applications.

Both portable and non-mobile blue light scanners utilize hardware and software that produce high-quality digital data because of the thin blue band of light and photogrammetry technology. They provide flexibility in reverse engineering and reliability during inspections, but is one option better than the other? At Capture 3D, we want you to be fully aware of exactly how 3D hand scanners work and what might not make them the best option for the work you are doing. We’ve broken down the applications that use 3D scans for reverse engineering and discuss how each one would be affected if the scanner gathering the data was a portable device.


Imagine the size of a small jet. Now imagine scanning that by hand. Could you imagine that process with a large airplane or rocket? Building aircraft is one thing. Scanning them for parts and ensuring the correct fits during reverse engineering is another. Luckily, with today’s technology, 3D scanning can be done through the use of automation rather than touch probe technology that could take days or weeks.

So why bother adding up labor with handheld scanners? Non-mobile 3D metrology calibrates itself and uses sensors to probe the data points. Portable 3D scanners, on the other hand, must be scanned manually. This could take hours longer than the non-mobile option and requires intense focus and extreme precision. While small 3D scanners can gather and store large amounts of data, having to manually scan the data points on large engines or wings for reverse engineering hinder your business from having the most optimized workflow it could.

Medical Research

3D hand scanners use the same blue light technology that non-mobile options, and the hardware and software work similarly, but because of its hands-on nature, it is more likely to produce scans that aren’t as high-quality or high-resolution as they could be.

Humans are more likely to shake the scanner or move too close or too far away from the object being scanned, which would result in unclear images or a lack of crucial details. Medical researchers, subject matter experts, and doctors have been able to use scans of the human body to study anatomy in a more detailed way than ever before. While organs are much smaller than something like a jet’s engine, the scanning cannot be any less precise.

Because of the way reverse engineering works, when a torso, for example, is deconstructed on the screen for the purpose of finding improved ways of completing invasive surgeries or for reassembling organs to figure out how the body could best accommodate an implant, every minuscule detail is imperative. If the human scanning the anatomical structure makes a slight move or his or her hand shakes, something tiny like the opening of a vein can get skewed in the process.


When it comes to vehicles and other transportation, ATOS blue light scanners can easily gather all the data points from contactless blue light technology. Portable 3D scanners must take measurements from the same distance all around the vehicle or else the scanner’s sense of depth will be thrown off. This will create inconsistencies in the measurement reading. A steady probe is the only way to accurately gather data that can be used for inspection and reverse engineering.

Customers like to customize their cars. They want high quality, fast, sleek, multifunctional vehicles that can get them where they need to go and more. To keep up with market demands, manufacturers need to be constantly adapting to technology trends and vehicle aesthetics. Automated 3D scanning certainly speeds up the production process because it takes manufacturers off the floor where scanning could take days or weeks if done manually and allows them to optimize their production workflow. Handheld 3D scanners inhibit this streamlined workflow because a worker needs to be present to hold the machine and go around the object to scan all data points and gather the desired information.

Casting and Forging

Blue light technology has allowed manufacturers to meet the more accurate shape and tighter tolerance requirements because of how it picks up even the smallest details. It has also allowed them to save a great deal on costs because reproductions don’t need as many iterations and the guesswork involved with meeting the standards for those iterations.

In order to support CAD model creation, casts and molds must be as identical as they possibly can to be able to use for casting re-creation. Once they fit requirements, the information can be archived in the “as-manufactured” condition. From there, you’ll be able to take the scan data and compare it to 2D drawings for inspection analysis.

High-resolution 3D scans don’t come with expensive fixturing set-ups or the time involved with such practices so the scanning of complex and organic shapes will result in faster downstream processing. Not only are complex shapes collected through digitized scanning data, but very small parts can also be accurately measured since the ATOS 3D scanner adjusts to different volumes. Having the ability to capture minuscule detail down to the millimeter is something easily done with non-mobile devices, but something a handheld 3D scanner might spoil due to the probability of an unsteady hand.

Injection molds and plastics

Even the best portable 3D scanner complete with advanced technology might not provide the most high-resolution scans even though it can pick up on complex shapes. Small 3D scanners that are compact and portable might be a more cost-effective option, but the outcomes won’t be the desired quality you are looking for.

The advanced software in blue light 3D scanners makes the construction and prototyping process much more streamlined. The clarity of the images makes it easy to catch inconsistencies and make corrections on tools and digital models before they are manufactured. Inspections are thorough and assembly analyses are well defined.

Remove the tediousness of catching an object’s nuanced surface structures and avoid handheld metrology. Instead of manually scanning and accidentally botching tiny intricacies, the non-mobile option will take less time on the floor and more time to study new ways to model things on screen with a clean scan that doesn’t need to be redone. In fact, some customers have reduced their tooling cycle by 50 percent or more with the help of ATOS non-portable technology.

Conclusion: Select the best tool for the job

Handheld 3D scanners require much more attention than their non-mobile counterparts because the human behind it must not have any fluctuations in the flow of scanning, which would offset focus and throw off the clarity of the scan. Simply put, for many 3D scanning applications, portable 3D scanners are not the right tool for the job.

If you’re curious about our 3D scanning options or learning more about our company and its products, reach out. We love sharing what we do and look forward to working with you.

Need more information? See the full range of 3D scanners, from low cost industrial scanners, all the way to fully automated turnkey solutions now!


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