Understanding Structured Light Scanners

When needing to automate a process for designing, reverse engineering or measuring organic or complex shapes, a Structured Light Scanner provides an accurate and swift non-contact measurement solution.  

Structured Light Scanners belong to a family of measurement devices called optical imagers.

  • These devices capture large amounts of 3D data, called point clouds, very quickly by projecting a pattern of light onto an object.

  • One or more cameras then record that object to capture the ways in which the light pattern is bent by the shape.

  • The distance from the cameras to the various points on the object is triangulated to provide coordinate data, which is relayed to software for interpretation and modeling.

Historically, Structured Light Scanners used white light to scan, but some companies are turning to blue light scanning. Blue light has a shorter wavelength and delivers higher resolution imaging with less “speckle" or “noise.” As a result, blue light scanning tends to be more widely used in metrology applications. White light scanning can be a more affordable approach for product design or reverse engineering. It scans with alternating patterns of red, green, blue (RGB), and white light and can capture color point clouds. This is ideal when color data capture is required. 

Because the cameras capture information in their entire field of view, large areas of content can be captured in one structured-light scan – making it a fast and accurate way to measure.


Structured light scanning has many benefits, but perhaps the biggest one is that its use is easily automated. A mounted Structured Light Scanner can be paired with a turntable or rotational platform to capture data based on a pre-programmed inspection routine. In many applications, Structured Light Scanners are mounted on a robot to perform automated inspection. Alternatively, multiple scanners can be used simultaneously to capture several perspectives of the same object.

Since the rate of capture is so high, object details can be captured in just a few seconds, with an accuracy that is comparable to other non-contact scanning solutions, such as a Portable Measurement Arm with a Laser Line Probe Scanner attached.

Since Structured Light Scanners scan a wide range of objects and are ideal for measuring high volumes of detailed or fragile objects, they work well in a variety of applications:

  • Inspection – Verify dimensions and specifications after manufacturing a part
  • Product design – Scan prototypes for CAD modeling and for 3D printing or sintering output
  • Reverse engineering – Capture legacy parts to design replacements or make improvements
  • Research – Evaluate objects as a 3D model without needing to manipulate the physical version
  • Education –Scan and create teaching models
  • Digital cataloging – Preserve and virtually display historical artifacts while retaining digitized documentation
  • Jewelry/fashion – Capture highly detailed scans of small and intricate parts for activity such as jewelry and fashion design

While the actual data capture time is only a few seconds, the setup time may be longer than that of a Portable Measurement Arm. And like other data capture systems, a Structured Light Scanner requires the part to be stationary for the duration of the scan. If the object moves during the scan, accurate data cannot be collected.

Additionally, a Structured Light Scanner is better suited toward scanning sets of similar or identical objects – scanning sets of different objects will require significant time to adjust setups. This is because when scanning with structured light, a certain amount of programming or setup time is required to define the inspection routine. If you need to scan objects or parts that vary in size, shape or features without the time and/or ability to reconfigure in between, a Portable Measurement Arm may offer a better solution.

Want to learn more about Structured Light Scanners?

Additional resources:

  • [Read] How to use Optical 3D Imagers & analysis software for automated inspection – Here
  • [Read] Automated inspection of complex parts – Here
  • [Watch] In-process measurement with the FARO Cobalt Imager – Here

If you’re interested in learning more about FARO’s Structured Light Scanner solutions, such as our Cobalt family of products, click here.

Have questions about bringing laser projection into your workflow? Contact us here. 

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