A set of a 3D printer and a 3D scanner will soon let anyone create essentially any item.

Although first 3D printers appeared 30 years ago, they still looks like a device from a sci-fi movie, a device that will be invented in half a century, at best. Yet, we can use them today and 3D printing is becoming increasingly popular. One of the reasons is that prices of 3D printers are dropping. If you want to buy one, you don’t need to be a large company, virtually any person interested in this technology can buy such a printer. All in all, 3D print is no longer a curiosity, it’s becoming a standard.

You have to remember, though, that in order to print a specific item you need a file with this item’s 3D model. For a simple element, which you can choose out of a catalog, the process is relatively simple. You just need to download the file, upload it into the printer’s software and you can start printing. But if the model doesn’t exist in any catalog, it needs to be created.

In order to create it you have to measure the object you want to copy to a high degree of precision. After all, the spare part which will take over the job of the original part needs to be an exact duplicate. That’s easy enough when the element has a simple, regular shape, but this is a rare luxury. Devices of every kind are becoming more and more complex. Moreover, manufacturers want to be able to sell spares with a high mark-up. Creating the model of a specific element on your own might thus be very difficult, and consequently time consuming and expensive.

3D scanners could become the permanent solution to the problem

Old-school printers and scanners are a well-knit duo. Their 3D counterparts are, too. Printers can create a physical object based on a model file. A 3D scanner can make a digital image of virtually any object. A set of both these devices can be used to copy the given item, such as a spare part. Another important issue is that a 3D scanner can make a 3D model much faster and much more precisely than a human being. And if needed, such a file can be manually improved.

Nowadays 3D scanning usually takes place without the object being touched. This eliminates the likelihood of a delicate object being damaged. It’s also important for scanning of large objects with an intricate surface. Currently, two methods of contactless scanning are used. One of them uses laser rangefinders. As the speed of light is known, measuring the time it takes the reflected light to bounce back from the object makes it possible to calculate its alignment in space. The other type of 3D scanning is based on a matrix registering the coordinates of the object. This solution was introduced not only in 3D printing, but also in the Kinect controller for the Xbox 360 and Xbox One consoles.

3D printing technology is developing rapidly, but it is thanks to 3D scanners that it will become really popular. These devices will let anyone copy various objects and make it easier to fix them. There are many more prospective options than you might think. Even if we can’t use them now, we’ll be able to do it soon.