While the cost of 3D scanning remains out of reach of many small businesses, collaborations between industry and research could bring the technology into service for smaller scale operations.
With that potential in mind, Kamloops Innovation Centre (KIC) offered a glimpse of state-of-the art digital scanners at Kamloops Precision Machining Friday, hosting a demonstration by Rapid 3D of Calgary.
The demonstration was sponsored by the National Research Council and included a presentation by UBC Okanagan’s Success and Thrive Applied Research (STAR).
Similar to Kamloops Innovation Centre, STAR serves as a business and industry accelerator, kickstarting innovation and ingenuity with applied technology.
“This is a new program for us,” said Lincoln Smith, executive director of KIC, who explained that the centre is looking to attract the interest of a group of Kamloops manufacturers to invest in the technology.
Over the last decade, three dimensional scanning has become increasingly important in manufacturing applications. Hand-held digital scanners connected to PCs are used for design, inspection and “reverse engineering,” designing a perfect part from an imperfect original, for example. Kamloops has a thriving industrial service sector that would seem to be a natural fit for 3D digital scanners. However, with scanning units fetching between $40,000 and $60,000, smaller shops would be unlikely to justify the expense unless using the equipment on a regular basis.
Ira Laughy, president of Rapid 3D, said his company is dedicated to 3D technology and hand-held scanners are a big part of that. He scanned an engine impeller using a Creaform HandySCAN, taking only a minute of so to gather enough data for reproduce the part on a computer.
“It scans very fast and very accurate,” he said.
Manufacturers and the service sector are called upon to re-fabricate parts to replace damaged original parts, which requires casting replacements. This can be a particular challenge with parts such as engine hoods, for example, which have continuous curves. There is also a need to scan hidden or internal parts.
“In our business, you get asked to scan all kinds of things,” Laughy said, citing the example of a customer who slowly but surely building a full-scale working steam engine. “One of these days we’re going to go out and watch this thing operate, though I don’t know if it will be in this century.”
At least one business in the group that attended the demonstration indicated it was close to purchasing digital scanning equipment.
Kamloops Precision Machining repairs Komatsu heavy equipment with much of its business coming from the Alberta oilsands.
“It’s been steady,” Don Gwynne, part owner of KPM. “It’s definitely slowed down, but we’re still staying ahead of the game. We haven’t had to lay off anybody yet, which is a good thing.”
He said the scanning technology is still new from their perspective.
“We’re just getting started.”