From the Fuel3D to the Digitizer, the Lionhead to the Zeus, 3D scanning is quickly making a name for itself in the 3D printing industry.
Recent weeks have shown a number of new 3D scanners hit the market – or the hallowed halls of Kickstarter – and receive a massive amount of attention. First there was AIO Robotics’ ZEUS, with it’s ability to 3D print, scan, copy, and fax. Then, there was MakerBot’s polished entry into the scanning market with the Digitizer. And now the Lionhead by Radiant Fabrication has also started it’s Kickstarter campaign, supplementing an eight-nozzle design with the addition of 3D scanning.
Oh, and let’s not forget the Fuel3D, a former medical device devised in the UK that has now been upgraded to provide handheld 3D scanning.
It seems then that 3D scanning is becoming an increasingly popular feature for producers. But does that make it the next big thing for 3D consumers? Let’s consider a few points.
As MakerBot says on their site for the Digitizer, 3D scanners allow users to “Quickly turn the things in your world into 3D models that you can modify, improve, share, and 3D print.” Which in theory makes a lot of sense. Except that a lot of the items we have on hand are subject to copyright.
This means that you could pick up that action figure, scan it, and alter the model to make your own toy or design, but you wouldn’t be allowed to sell that or use it for monetary purposes. Because it would be a derivative work, and thus under most copyright regulation would have to be licensed by the original person or company.
3D printers are improving every day, and for the casual user there is still a bit of work to do before the personal 3D printer is a no-hassle machine. When it comes to 3D scanners, however, usability actually does seem to be one of their major benefits.
The process of scanning is automated, doesn’t take too long to accomplish, and is processed through a number of programs automatically to pump out a 3D model. From a consumer point of view then, it is a wonderful item.
Perhaps the greatest issue with 3D scanners to date is the quality they can actually provide. While it is easy enough to scan something and be done with it – the majority of the scanners out there just don’t do a very good job. See for example this picture from MakerBot showing off the capabilities of the Digitizer to scan two pieces of art. The first of which shows many areas of decreased resolution, and the latter of which has a long way to go before it even begins to resemble the actual finesse of the final piece.
Simple put then, a 3D scanner just can’t seem to hold up to the rigorous standards necessitated by the human eye without someone to adjust the actual scan – which most casual users would never be able to do.
As for the combination machines (those with the ability to 3D print, scan, and so forth), anyone who has gone in for a microwave / convection oven or any other combination of items in a single machine can probably tell you that you rarely get two extraordinary machines for the price of one. Rather, you get two sub-par iterations that – for specialized work – are essentially useless.
Despite many of their current drawbacks or short fallings, 3D scanners do serve a unique purpose. Which just as MakerBot says, should help to simplify the process of design by allowing people to draw inspiration from the world around them and edit it in a 3D space.
Though as producers continue to push 3D scanners as both separate products and as an additional option in their 3D printers, I might suggest that they take a moment and contemplate the actual market for their products. Because while an affordable all-in-one printer and scanner might appeal to a first time consumer, experienced printers will continue to demand more, and likely hold out purchasing one until they get what they are looking for.