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Z Corporation’s 3D Scanner brings new process and new Aerospace business opportunity for M7

Published 26 January 2010

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: prototype, design, catia, z corporation, 3d scanning, laser scanning, aerospace, 3d scanner, z scanner

The Reflective dots you can see on the undercarriage of the plane assist with the registration of the scan data.

This just came in from Z Corporation, so I thought it was worth pushing up to the web straight away as it’s something I’ve been pondering of late. There’s a lot of talk about the mainstreaming of rapid prototyping of late and alongside rapid prototyping always comes 3d scanning - even Dr. Mings even discussed this yesterday on the Smack, with news of an 3D Photocopier, then of course there’s things like the homebrew laser scanner using the David software as well as the Next Engine. But while the mainstream is undoubtedly interesting in terms of proliferation of a technology to a hobbiest market (certainly not mainstream), there are times when you need an industrial strength solution to solve an engineering problem - and that’s never going to change. So, consider this (courtesy of Z Corp - but you’ll have guessed that already):

When a 30-year-old aircraft arrives in the hangar for retrofitting or repair, the more information you have the better. Yet engineering-quality design data can be elusive. The original plans, wherever they are, are often on paper and by definition in 2D form. Moreover, the same plane model varies from aircraft to aircraft because of manufacturing variations, modifications, damage or wear and tear. So from an engineering perspective, you don’t always know exactly what you’re looking at. This information gap has always been a reality and a cost of doing business for companies like M7 Aerospace, a Texas, U.S.-based aviation services firm that provides a full range of maintenance, repair and overhaul services for civilians, military and foreign governments.

Flying blind

Without precise engineering data, modifications can be time-consuming and expensive. Fitting parts and installing aftermarket equipment can be a case of trial and error. Anomalies can cause delays. Yet the need for service on older aircraft is pressing. Older, viable aircraft are often called upon to perform modern roles that may require modification such as avionics upgrades, cosmetic work, ballistic blankets, external sensor installations for missile defence systems, or all of the above.

Meanwhile, the traditional method for capturing 3D engineering data from objects - scanning - has, until recently, come with critical shortcomings. Most scanning technology still requires jigs, fixtures, tripods or mechanical arms for point of reference. Putting a plane in a jig or arranging and re-arranging tripods and mechanical arms around a large aircraft is a monumental undertaking. And after scanning the plane - which could take weeks, months or years, if attempted at all - a team has to use software to stitch together the mosaic of images, taking pains to ensure that each frame lines up with every other and is assembled in the proper order. In other words, scanning a plane has been untenable, until now.

Adopting the ZScanner 700 PX

All this changed when M7’s computer-aided design (CAD) services provider, AGS 3D, introduced M7 Aerospace to Z Corporations ZScanner 700 PX, a handheld laser scanner which makes this type of job much easier. The reason that job is easier is that the system can operate without much in the way of associated equipment - it’s handheld - just that. For those unfamiliar with the products, it’s a smallish form factor device that connected to a laptop and only a laptop. Using a combination of two cameras, a laser and a product stickered up with registration dots (these help the system to maintain position and registration), you can scan very large objects indeed. This is possible because the combination of the unit, the registration dots the scanner can maintain it’s own position in space, meaning you can get more complete scans, without registration of separate meshes, fewer set-ups and such.

The Scanner draws it’s power from the laptop connection (I seem to recalled it’s firewire for greater data bandwidth), so you’ll only wrangling one laptop and device as you scan.

M7 used the ZScanner to precisely capture the entire surface of a Fairchild Metroliner, in a resolution of 0.1 mm, in just three days. The Fairchild Metroliner is a 19-seat commuter-class turboprop aircraft with a 57-foot wingspan. The team first scanned the plane to create a “macro” photogrammetry model and then scanned it again using the laser scanning function. Thus, surface data was captured at the micro level in the context of the photogrammetry framework. The digitized object appears on a laptop screen intact, eliminating costly and time-consuming post-processing.

Even if the team is operating multiple scanners and lap tops, the ZScanner brings it all together into one point cloud,” says Joe Furnish, M7 Aerospace vice president of engineering services. “No file repair is required. The software understands what it’s looking at.

When the scanned file is complete, M7 imports the file into Catia as a parametric solid model editable [more on this shortly] just like any other part designed in CAD. “At this stage, M7 has its engineering information in hand, in 3D, and ready to use for quicker, more accurate and more economical service,” says Furnish.

With the ZScanner, M7 is now able to offer a new service to scan any aircraft - exterior, interior or both, creating precise, three-dimensional portraits of entire planes down to one-thousandth of an inch. This gives both M7 Aerospace and the plane owner the precise engineering data they need as well as an approximate design template for any plane based on the same design. “There’s a growing need for both our government and commercial customers to keep their older aircraft flying and productive,” says Furnish. “This new scanning capability helps us do that. By automatically capturing deep engineering data, we can more quickly and efficiently reverse-engineer aircraft and components that were originally designed in the 2D era - before 3D CAD was readily available.

Now - Some of you might have noticed a couple things. Firstly I found this story interesting because it’s about a company expanding its offering and potential through the adoption of a technology, a product and a process - and that’s something we can all relate to. Secondly, devices like the ZScanner products solve a problem that’s ever present in the reverse engineering world, that of scale. Big parts or products don’t lend themselves to 3D scanning - and if you want to scan such large parts or products, your investment is typically similarly large. The PX variant of the ZScanner range has been specifically developed for large part or product handling - not so much the device, but the software that’s bundled with it (Z Corp include software, or license technology from AICON who specialise in this field).

Also worth noting is something that crops up in the press release. It states that the system provides a “parametric solid model editable”. OK. I understand that a solid model is possible from a 3d scanner, that’s perfectly acceptable. I can understand editable. You take a mesh from a the scan software, bring it into Catia and you can create an editable mesh. But parametric? Someone got carried away with themselves. Yes, it’s possible to use software tools such as Geomagic Fashion or RapidForm XOR/ReDesign (or indeed, SolidWorks built in tools) to take a tessellated mesh, create surfaces and features from your mesh data, but automatically, as if by magic from a laser scanner? Looks like someone got a wee bit carried away. Still, it’s a good story.

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EOS launch new Aerospace targetted metal powders

Published 25 January 2010

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: prototype, 3d systems, direct manufacturing, eos, sintering, rapid manufacturing, electro optical systems, alumide, carbomide, advanced materials

EOS’ M 270 Machine - gives you build capabilities for metals of an increasingly wide range of metal types in a 250 mm x 250 mm x 215 mm envelope

German rapid manufacturing vendor, EOS (Electro-Optical Systems) has just launched two new powdered metals for the rapid manufacture of nickel alloy and aluminium alloy components in its EOSINT M 270 laser-sintering systems (spec sheet is here - PDF). If you’ve not come across EOS before, they provide a range of processes, all based on laser optics systems building a variety of powders. The P series machines produce plastic derivative parts (although some of the most popular materials are aluminium and carbon-based powders), the S-series machines build using sand (for casting patterns and cores), while the M-series machines build using metals. The generic term for EOS’ metals process is DMLS, direct metal laser sintering. Don’t call it SLS - that’s a 3D Systems trademark term.

EOS NickelAlloy IN718

EOS NickelAlloy IN718 is a nickel-based, heat resistant superalloy which corresponds to Inconel 718.  It is a precipitation hardening, nickel chromium alloy characterized by good tensile, fatigue, creep and rupture strengths at temperatures up to 700°C. It shows outstanding corrosion resistance, is ideal for many high temperature applications, and possesses excellent cryogenic properties.
The material will be of particular interest to the aerospace industry due to its demanding requirements. EOS has already carried out extensive tests in collaboration with several pilot customers. It has developed process parameters that enable good part building and ensure that the relevant industrial standards for this material type can be reliably fulfilled.  These include, for example, heat treatment in accordance with AMS 5662 and AMS 5664 standards as well as tensile and stress rupture properties at elevated temperature (650°C).

Fuel Injection–Swirlers (actually built in EOS’ CobaltChrome MP1 material) courtesy of Morris Technologies

Greg Morris, President of pilot user Morris Technologies Inc in the US said: “We have been supplying parts in EOS CobaltChrome MP1 as a preferred material for high stress / high temperature environments since 2005. Since working with EOS NickelAlloy IN718, this has become our front-line material of choice for many applications in aerospace and other demanding applications.  The material allows us to produce parts that will see some of the most demanding environments including high temperatures, high stress loads and extended fatigue situations. Not only has the sintered nickel alloy performed well in such tests and environments, but Morris Technologies’ material characterization efforts have also demonstrated that it performs to ASTM standards”.

Ian Halliday, CEO of pilot user 3T RPD in Newbury, UK, added: “EOS NickelAlloy IN718 has helped to open up new application areas for us.  We are working with some of our customers to qualify this material for future series production of aerospace components. Tests have shown that the mechanical properties of parts built from the material exceed what our customers are used to from cast parts.  They also report that the components are easier to machine than conventional Inconel 718.

EOS Aluminium AlSi10Mg

The second material is EOS Aluminium AlSi10Mg powder, a typical casting alloy and the first aluminium-based powder to be qualified for EOSINT M 270 systems and opens up new application areas due to its light weight and thermal conductivity. Thorough process development and testing were performed as preparation for the launch. Cast parts in conventional AlSi10Mg are typically subjected to T6 heat treatment including solution annealing and quenching followed by age hardening at elevated temperatures.

Few thoughts

What I found interesting is a quote from the VP of M (Meaning Metals) Technology at EOS, Mike Shellabear claims that “Due to the rapid melting and resolidification caused by exposure to the lasers, the sintered parts match or even exceed conventional heat-treated parts in the as-built condition.  So even more time and cost can be saved in the process chain.” This is something that’s been talked about with regards to metals for some time. Traditionally vendors have been aiming to develop processes which allow the user to replicate traditional production intent materials processed using traditional means (such as casting, machining, heat treatment etc) using direct manufacturing technology. While this is obviously still an end goal, it’s clear that the more advanced vendors are finding that the combination of materials and processes is creating a new set of materials with new capabilities. When combined with the freedom from many of the geometric limitations associated (but certainly not all by any means) with traditional production methods, this is truly exciting times.

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TCT launches Call for Papers for the 2010 event

Published 22 January 2010

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: prototype, design, rapid prototyping, tct live, live events, tct conference, tct exhibition, call for papers

With all the current interest surround the HP and Stratasys link up, now is a good time for the RP industry and as it happens, the team behind one of europe’s most interesting product development events, TCT Live, has just sent out the call for papers for it’s 2010 Additive Manufacturing Conference, to be held in Coventry later this year. According to the press release, theme of this year’s event is “is business critical and advanced technologies for product development and manufacturing” and the conference manager is now looking to recieve paper submissions from parties who can present a definitive application of Additive Manufacture in the following areas:

  • Business ˜ The Advantages of Adopting Additive Manufacture
  • Automotive Applications of AM
  • Aerospace, Applications of AM
  • Medical or Dental Applications of AM
  • Jewellery Applications of AM
  • Sustainable Manufacturing Models of AM

Presentations should address at least one of the following aspects: the design issues, the business benefits in terms of time-to-market and financial objectives, material issues and/or part performance.The conference will once again be held at the prestigious and centrally located Ricoh Arena, Coventry, 19 thˆ20th October 2010, and anyone submitting a presentation must be available to present on either of these two days. In terms of ownership and direction, the release states that “all submissions must be non-promotional in content and presented by companies that are utilising and/or researching the technologies for an industrial application. All submissions will be reviewed by the conference steering committee to ensure that they meet the necessary and exacting requirements of TCT.” Also no vendor papers will be accepted from companies that sell machines, materials or associated services (so no sneaking in a product pitch).

If you’re interested, you should submit a detailed abstract (3-400 words) of the proposed paper before 15th March 2010, including the working title, all authors/contributors and their affiliations. Send them to Conference Manager, Jenna Reid (email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)).

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Autodesk evaluating SaaS model: offers real time 2D DWG collaboration online with Project Butterfly

Published 21 January 2010

Posted by Martyn Day

Article tagged with: autodesk, autodesk labs, dwg, saas, cloud computing

The battle to provide CAD tool online, in addition to the desktop took a step forward this month, with Autodesk unleashing Project Butterfly on its innovative Autodesk Labs website. Here users can try for free, a tool which allows the viewing, mark-up and editing of 2D DWG files, either solo or in realtime co-editing with a colleague. As the system is totally web-based the parties can be anywhere in the world and neither requires a copy of AutoCAD.

Previous cloud technology previews on the Labs website have been forthcoming new products, such as Project Dragonfly for room layout and more recently Project Twitch, to allow remote delivery of AutoCAD, Revit, Inventor and Maya (currently only available to those who live in US and Canada). Project Butterfly offers functionality similar to Autodesk View but the DWG files and the application are hosted on Autodesk’s servers and is accessed by a web browser. This means that drawings could be remotely stored, viewed, interrogated and marked-up on any PC with an Internet connection.

Once DWGs are added to the Project Butterfly servers, other users can be invited to view and edit DWGs online as well as download to their local computer. Two-party online review sessions can be held, where mark-ups can be added as well as notes made and stored. This first version also provides co-editing where two users can simultaneously create or delete geometry using familiar AutoCAD tools. For those who have used Google Wave, they will notice a similar philosophy.


Project Butterfly is the result of Autodesk acquiring PlanPlatform, a developer of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions based in Tel Aviv, Israel. The company was cofounded in 2007 by Jonathan Seroussi and Tal Weiss, who both used to work for Israel Aerospace Industries. PlanPLatform’s VisualTao product was demonstrated its beta DWG collaboration product early last year, after which Autodesk obviously took interest and completed acquisition in December 2009, for an estimated $20-$30 million.
In the drive to develop online CAD tools and a viable SaaS business Autodesk is evaluating a number of core technologies to get its products online, VisualTao is the latest. According to Autodesk CEO Carl Bass, there are four basic technologies currently under evaluation but he feels that there will be no one way, or single technology to deliver all the end-user experiences for cloud-based computing. Previously we have reported on Autodesk investment and testing of ‘onLive’ gaming technology which utilises cutting edge data compression algorithms to ‘squirt’ real time video over the web. OnLive is the technology behind the Project Twitter approach and relies of powerful servers to run the desktop applications on servers, sending the video and receiving keyboard and mouse input back over the web.

In both Project Dragonfly and Project Butterfly Autodesk uses Adobe’s Flash web engine, while we noted that Project Cooper (the potential LT version of AutoCAD LT) required the installation of Microsoft Silverlight. All these products have different ways of working and delivering the application experience over the web. Autodesk will use the best suited toolkits for each commercial product.

Project Butterfly is based on streaming technology but instead of dumb rendered graphics, sends accurate vectors and metadata using optimised compression, allowing for impressive CAD-like functionality and interaction within the browser. In use it does actually feel like a desktop CAD application. More CAD functionality is in the pipeline for Project Butterfly, together with the potential to handle 3D.


Autodesk is clearly making the most of its Labs website to allow its customers to test out these new technologies. With everything from full AutoCAD or Inventor, home layout tools and now real-time collaboration delivered to a browser near you.
A full review of Project Butterfly will be up soon.

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