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Investing in 3D Scanning

Brian Hicks

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted September 26, 2013

Breakthroughs in 3D scanning are becoming more applicable to our everyday lives. The technology isn’t new, but what we’re doing with it is.

Leading development companies like LMI Technologies – which just announced Monday the official release of its new HDI 120 3D Scanner at the TCT Show + Personalize – have some pretty big plans for us consumers.

3D PrinterLMI’s new scanner is the world’s smallest 3D scanning system using blue LED projection technology.

Others, too, are making strides of their own, and scanning technology that has always been perceived as complex is becoming simple and mainstream.

When we think about 3D printing, it is the 3D scanning process that holds the key to its success – and this is what could possibly bring it full circle. If we can successfully scan, copy, and digitize all of our favorite personal belongings – objects, heirlooms, etc. – 3D printing goes to a whole new level of personalization.

It’s a new frontier in digital design. It is faster, easier, and it’s even becoming more affordable. And it all starts with 3D scanning and what will be a whole new way of looking at digital manufacturing.

The Companies

MakerBot

Another company with a new 3D scanner on the market is MakerBot. Its desktop scanner can be pre-ordered on the company website for $1,400, or you can wait until next month, when you will find it on sale in retail settings.

The price still isn’t quite economical for a lot of us, but what this thing can do just might make it worth the price tag. You can put the machine on your desk and set a physical object on it. From there, lasers shoot out at the object as the machine turns it around and takes pictures of it from every angle. Less than 12 minutes later, you’ve turned your physical object into a digital design.

This piece of technology takes the digital design process to new levels, giving you a fast and easy scan of a physical model. You can then use the digital file to make a copy of the object from a 3D printer.

The one drawback is that you’re limited to using objects less than eight inches in diameter and height. It’s also not recommended that you try it on your pet gerbil or other living creatures.

And while the price isn’t cheap, this is the first desktop 3D scanner that is affordable.

LMI Technologies

LMI, which I mentioned earlier, is setting the bar high with its HDI 120. This scanner delivers high resolution and accurate 3D results at just a fraction of comparable systems.

The HDI 120 is portable, unlike MakerBot’s model. It can fit in small spaces to make it more versatile. And it can process 3D data at an instant, using built-in data editing, alignment, and merging capabilities without the use of any external post-processing software.

Occipital

Occipital is another to watch for. Originally focused on developing apps, it kind of stumbled into its latest invention – a 3D scanner called Structure that attaches to and runs on an Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPad.

Structure is a unique system in that, unlike other 3D scanners, it has the ability to model an entire room of items. There’s no size limit like with your desktop 3D scanners, and it’s mobile, so anywhere your iPad goes, so to can Structure.

But the project is only on Kickstarter, as the company is still in the very early stages.

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Staying Power

Of the three, LMI has proven its staying power with over 35 years of manufacturing and software expertise. It builds everything from the ground up, from the concept to design and manufacturing.

Industries that demand accuracy would find LMI’s applications useful. Its product boasts a solid aluminum body that is dust proof and water resistant, according to the press release, which many industries could take advantage of.

Occipital’s Structure 3D scanner is interesting because you could scan an entire room full of furniture, and you would automatically have those dimensions at your fingertips for use.

It goes beyond uses for 3D printing. You could virtually play with the room until it’s exactly the way you want it – perfect for design, remodeling, or if you just want to see how that new couch will fit in your living room.

And Structure is just a fraction of the cost of your MakerBot scanner – possibly coming in around $350 when it is released. And it’s more maneuverable because it’s right there with your iPad.

But MakerBot shouldn’t be overlooked at all. It is the first of its kind in the desktop scanner world, and it would be perfect for anyone who might have a 3D printer.

As for your handheld and portable scanners, there are others out there, but they’re just starting to see prices fall below $1,000.

Investing

It’s getting hectic out there in the 3D scanning world. And it’s exciting. But what should we be doing with its market?

LMI and its HDI 120 is the first of more models to be released soon with compact, pre-calibrated 3D scanners. You can pre-order today, or you can wait for the release in October. It’s likely to be a hit on the shelves, for sure.

Occipital hasn’t yet announced a release date, but its Structure scanner sounds very exciting, and while the prototype is only iOS compatible, it has adapted its operating system for different devices with different dimensions.

But investors will want to watch the public companies. MakerBot, founded in 2009, was acquired by Stratasys (NASDAQ: SSYS) this year, and the merger was completed in August. The company already has clients such as NASA, Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT), and General Electric (NYSE: GE), and MakerBot will operate as a subsidiary and its own distinct brand.

As for others in line, Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) has plans for a 3D scanner for PCs that would allow objects to appear in 3D in compatibility with things like eBay (NASDAQ: EBAY).

Autodesk (NASDAQ: ADSK) has an online app, 123D Catch, that can create user 3D models from photos submitted.

And this is just the beginning as smartphones and tablets become a bigger part of our world.

 

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