The Benefits of Reverse Engineering And How To Do It

Updated , by John Dahlstrom

The Benefits of Reverse Engineering And How To Do It

How Is Reverse Engineering Defined? #

Reverse engineering is making a product or a component of an item without any blueprints, models, or documentation. It allows you to copy a product or component by recording the item's physical aspects such as dimensions, properties, and various features.

In what situations would you need to reverse engineer? Here are some examples:

  • The product or component is no longer produced by the original company that manufactured it
  • A client needs an item, but the original maker of the item does not exist anymore
  • There is a design, but there are insufficient details to make a copy of the product, or the original design documents don't exist anymore.
  • You have a product; you want to improve the good features and remove the bad features
  • You want to improve old and inefficient manufacturing processes
  • You have a competitor's product, and you want to evaluate its good and bad components. You want to know what the benchmarks are so you can exceed them to gain a competitive advantage in the market
  • You want to evaluate a product to see how you can improve performance
  • You have a CAD model, but it does not have enough information to support manufacturing or changes
  • You need parts, but they are not available from the original supplier, or the supplier is charging an inflated price that you are not willing to pay

In reverse engineering, you first determine the components in your product and how they work together. Then, you make a blueprint that represents this product. Finally, you use your blueprint to create a copy of this product.

Before we dive into some of the best reverse engineering techniques, there are some important aspects to keep in mind.

  • To justify the commitment of time, money, and resources of the reverse engineering project, you should do analyses of the product's life cycle and the cost versus benefits.
  • It is worthwhile if you plan to produce a high number of these items and achieve cost-effectiveness. The exception is that if the product you need to make is absolutely essential to a system, it can justify a higher expenditure.

Reverse Engineering Of A Product That Requires Computer Aided Design (CAD) #

By using computed tomography or a laser scanner, you can use CAD to create parametric surface patches by getting 3-D positional data, then reverse engineer that into surface points that come together to make the shape.

Reverse engineering software allows you to create a quality poly-mesh. The non-uniform rational B-spline (NURBS) curves and surfaces are fed into the CAD applications for more detailed rendering and analysis. Paths to cut are generated for the computer-aided manufacturing stage of the process where the physical product is produced.

Services include scanning with a laser, which can be with or without contact, a comparison analyzing how the CAD model deviates from the actual part, and inspects the dimensions. Reverse engineering includes the hardware for scanning and digitization, CAD software for design, and the reverse engineering plug-in that incorporates CAD.

It's important to keep in mind that some design information is not directly available in the end product. This includes things like processes to create the materials or tolerances for molds.

CAD computer software You Can Use For Your Reverse Engineering Efforts #

  • RapidformXO Redesign: this enables you to use physical parts to efficiently make parametric CAD models. Any user who is familiar with CAD will find this intuitive to use.
  • Geomagic Studio: this translates polygon meshes and 3-dimensional scan data into 3D models. Great for making fast prototypes, designing and analyzing the product.
  • RevWorks: A great tool for improving productivity and efficiency. This links your 3D scanning system or CMM (coordinate measuring machine) to SolidWorks. Great for any reverse engineering process that integrates CAD.
  • DezignWorks: The standard for SolidWorks. This allows you to make highly detailed 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional shapes with the coordinate measuring machine systems from Faro, Romer, Baces, and MicroScribe.
  • Rhinoceros NURBS Modeling for Windows: this allows you to design, edit, and render NURBS surfaces, curves, and solids on the Windows platform. It supports all 3-dimensional scanners and portable CMMs.

Software used for inspection includes: #

  • MobiGage: This can be used on your iPod Touch or iPhone. It handles data collection from linking a MobiBox Silver interface to MicroScribes. This is done wirelessly.
  • Delcam's PowerINSPECT: This is the industry leader in providing a comprehensive solution to CAD-based inspection.
  • RapidformXO/Verifier: Perfect tool for parts inspection using a 3D scanner.
  • Geomagic Qualify: this allows you to compare a digital model to a physical part efficiently and accurately for inspection and evaluation of product quality

When Reverse Engineering Would Be Used: #

Reverse engineering is often used in a wide range of industries, including automotive, entertainment, consumer electronics, and software engineering, just to name a few. For instance, when a company comes out with a new product in the manufacturing industry, a competing company might get the product and take it apart to study the components, features, and operation.

In the chemical industry, a company might reverse engineer a competitor's product to challenge a patent. In the software industry, existing source code is reverse engineered to create better source code. In civil engineering, an old, proven bridge design is reverse engineered to make it even more stable.

Sometimes, designers create a rough shape of their ideas by using materials like wood, plaster, foam rubber, or clay. However, the detailed design is done by CAD in order to make the actual part. With that said, it is not absolute that the model created in CAD will be an accurate representation to the physical model. This problem is solved with reverse engineering in a part-to-CAD process because you start with the physical model first. Then this data becomes the source for the CAD model.

Reverse engineering can also be used when you want to shorten the time to develop a product. The faster you can get a product from design to market in the current marketplace, the better competitive position you will be in.

Companies embrace rapid product development, or RPD, a technology that supports designers and manufacturers to cut down development lead times. This applies to all manufacturing industries. Reverse engineering allows you to take a physical product, translate it into a digital format, change the model, and then output the design to make a fast prototype or speed up manufacturing.