Reverse Engineering

Engineering is the profession of designing, manufacturing, constructing, and maintaining products, systems, and structures. There are two types of engineering: forward engineering and reverse engineering.

Forward engineering encompasses the process of moving from abstracts or logical designs to the physical implementation of product. In certain instances a component may arrive at ACD without any technical details (drawings, certifications, or data) and the part must be hand-crafted by our leading engineer team.

The process of duplicating an existing component, subassembly, or product--without the aid of drawings, documentation, or computer models-- is known as reverse engineering.

Reverse engineering can be viewed as the process of analyzing a system to:

  • Identify the system's components and their interrelationships
  • Create representations of the system in an abstract or precise form
  • Create the physical representation of a system

Reverse engineering is common in fields like: software engineering, entertainment, automotive, consumer products, microchips, chemicals, electronics, and mechanical designs. For example, when a new machine enters the market, competing manufacturers may buy one machine and disassemble it to learn how it was built and how it works. A chemical company may use reverse engineering to defeat a patent on a competitor's manufacturing process. In civil engineering, bridge and building designs are copied from past successes so there will be less chance of catastrophic failure. In software engineering, good source code is often a variation of other good source code.

Designers give shape and form to concepts by using clay, plaster, wood, or foam rubber. However, a CAD model is needed to enable the manufacturing of the part. As products become more organic in shape, designing in CAD becomes challenging or impossible with no guarantee that the model will be acceptably close to the sculpture. Reverse engineering provides a solution to this problem because the physical model is the source of information for the CAD model. This is also referred to as the part-to-CAD process.

Another reason for reverse engineering is to reduce product development times. In the intensely competitive global market, manufacturers constantly seek new ways to shorten lead-times to quickly bring product to market. Rapid product development (RPD) refers to recently developed technologies and techniques that assist manufacturers and designers in meeting the demands of reduced product development time. For example, injection-molding companies drastically reduce tool and die development times to remain profitable. By using reverse engineering, a three-dimensional product or model can be quickly captured in digital form, re-modeled, and exported for rapid prototyping/tooling and expeditious manufacturing.

Reverse engineering enables the duplication of an existing part by capturing the component's physical dimensions, features, and material properties. Before attempting reverse engineering, a well-planned life-cycle analysis and cost/benefit analysis should be conducted to justify the reverse engineering projects. Reverse engineering is typically cost effective only if the items to be reverse engineered reflect a high investment or will be reproduced in large quantities. Reverse engineering of a part may be attempted even if it is not cost-effective, if the part is absolutely required, or is mission-critical to a system.

Reverse engineering of mechanical parts involves acquiring three-dimensional position data in the point cloud using laser scanners or computed tomography (CT). Representing geometry of the part in terms of surface points is the first step in creating parametric surface patches. A good polymesh is created from the point cloud using reverse engineering software. The cleaned-up polymesh, NURBS (Non-uniform rational B-spline) curves, or NURBS surfaces are exported to CAD packages for further refinement, analysis, and generation of cutter tool paths for CAM. Finally, the CAM produces the physical part.

It can be said that reverse engineering begins with the product and works through the design process in the opposite direction to arrive at a product definition statement (PDS). In doing so, it uncovers as much information as possible about the design ideas that were used to produce a particular product.