How Additive Manufacturing Fits into Existing Reverse Engineering Processes

Additive manufacturing is a class of technologies that automatically construct 3D physical models from computer-aided design files. It’s a rapidly growing field with immense benefits for manufacturers, including the ability to save costs, reduce waste, improve accuracy, accelerate production and drive innovation. Of these technologies, perhaps the most well-known and often used is 3D printing.

Reverse engineering is a tried-and-true process that involves converting a physical object into a 3D virtual model. It begins with the object and concludes with its design dimensions and shape, which can then be used to recreate or improve the end product. Reverse engineering is often used to understand how a part works (especially when the original technical drawings are not available), and to determine how to improve the product, protect patents and enhance production.

When these two processes come together, the benefits and potential uses for manufacturers are endless. Although additive manufacturing is still relatively new, it’s already transforming the industry and the waycompanies approach reverse engineering. Currently, the most common reverse engineering applications for this new technology include:

  • Manufacturing complex parts more quickly. When companies need to create new and complex parts, additive manufacturing processes like 3D printing can benefit their operation by saving both time and resources. To start, the equipment is scanned to collect the applicable reverse engineering data. At this point, a 3D printed prototype can be created, a fit check is performed and the new part is installed – the power of this workflow is that the process is much faster than if the part were created using hand tools.
  • Replacing or improving older parts. Itoften happens that there are no spares available when older parts need to be replaced or improved to eliminate a design flaw or improve a product. Reverse engineering, combined with additive manufacturing, offers a practical and efficient way to identify issues with existing parts and devise solutions. The process can create a new, precise model in a matter of days (rather than weeks), and production can be approved knowing that the new part meets the organization’s needs and quality standards.
  • Bio-medical engineering. Additive manufacturing also has applications in the healthcare industry, where 3D printing can be used to reverse engineer organs for analysis. For example, a studypublished in the International Journal of Scientific & Engineering Research reviewed how an appendix was modeled using 3D printing and then analyzed to support or disprove the hypothesis that the organ no longer serves a vital purpose.

Although these are the most common applications for reverse engineering and additive manufacturing currently, they are far from the only processes available to manufacturers. As these technologies continue to mature and become more readily accessible, their potential uses are expected to increase substantially, delivering considerable benefits to manufacturers of all sizes, and in all industries.


  • James Rawstron

    James Rawstron is a Senior Marketing Specialist at Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence North America, located in North Kingstown, Rhode Island. Rawstron has 20 years of marketing communications experience in the software, high tech, industrial, advanced manufacturing machinery and medical device markets. He has written numerous articles for B2B publications, including blogs for a variety of industries. Prior to joining Hexagon, Rawstron served as a web marketing professional at IBM and a Marketing Manager at Vector Software. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and European History from Union College of Schenectady, New York.

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