Reverse Engineering

What is reverse engineering?

Reverse engineering is the process of analysing an existing object, breaking it down to its core components and measuring its critical dimensions to understand its function and methodology. In the industry of mechanical engineering this then allows the design to be recreated to a matching, or improved, specification.

It’s sometimes abbreviated to ‘RE’ and the actual process is carried out by a design engineer. Rather than the product being designed and manufactured from scratch, reverse engineering allows us to understand the original design intent instead. The object or product can be a mechanical part, a product that’s purchased and used daily by consumers or even a sculpture.

probe measuring a component during reverse engineering services
1. Why use reverse engineering?
Reverse engineering is used in lots of different industries because the requirement can often be to either better the product, duplicate it or learn from the design for future use and manufacturing. It can be used in industries including automotive, consumer products, chemicals, electronics and mechanical designs. Here are some of its wider uses:
  • Improving a product
  • Data recovery or broken IT infrastructure
  • Converting paper drawings of design into digital 3D data
In the case of improving a product, it means the process allows us to make it more easily, quicker or more effective for its original use. Whether that’s to re-design a car, improve gaming software and everything in between.
2. How does reverse engineering work?
Reverse engineering services happen using particular equipment, such as a 3D scanning machine or traditional measurement tools, by a product design consultancy.
  1. Scan your product – the 3D scanner measures thousands of points over an objects surfaces to capture its form. In simpler examples the object can just be measured using calipers, gauges and micrometers.
  2. Convert this data – the 3D scanner’s software turns this data into information that gets represented by a CAD program. More traditionally, new CAD is created but using the newly obtained dimensions.
  3. Adjust the design however is desired – an engineer can make adjustments to the CAD model at this stage. This provides a platform to improve functionality and reliability as required before saving it in a suitable format to be manufactured.
  4. Create your improved product – when your universal digital 3D file is available, you can then reproduce it using manufacturing methods such as 3D printing, CNC and injection moulding.
3. Where does CAD come in as part of 3D scanning and RE?
3D scanning means we can use computer aided design (CAD) to maintain the design intent of an object. The whole process allows us to create a 3D model and a 2D drawing of any physical object. 
4. What are the advantages and disadvantages of using reverse engineering?

Advantages

Cost effective

  • Reproduce products without starting from scratch every time
  • Easier product improvement and adjustments

Replicating legacy parts
If you have a machine that’s made up of components that are now old or broken, RE means you can take that apart, identify how it was designed, and then fix and update it.

Original Equipment Manufacturer Complications (OEM)

If the original manufacturer is for some reason no longer in business, or they don’t have the design measurements any more, you don’t have to worry. RE means you’re not limited because the process enables you to manufacture replacement components.

Making product improvements
If you have a successful product, you can use RE to take things back to basics, scrutinise the design and enhance the effectiveness of the product. Alternatively, if you have a product that’s desperate for a redesign, you can do this too, through RE.

New product inspiration or competition analysis
You can use RE to spark ideas for new products. Conduct analysis of your competitor’s products to think innovatively to brainstorm to compete with them.

Digital archiving
Once an object has been reverse engineered, the CAD data can then be stored digitally and backups made accordingly. Then, should that object be damaged, or any museums or companies need to duplicate or remake the product, this can happen.

Disadvantages

Not every component can be 3D scanned
Some extremely small objects can be more difficult to re-create or if the design is overly complex. Alternatively, if it has missing pieces or it’s majorly cracked, this won’t allow the 3D machine to give a completely accurate scan of the whole product.

5. What are the types of reverse engineering?
There are different types of RE because the process can break an object down, right its core. But they can include system level analysis, circuit extraction and product teardown. Product teardown is where an engineer strips the object to its components level to understand not just the overall function but also fine details like the tolerance requirements.

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