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Engineering is the profession involved in designing, manufacturing, constructing, and maintaining
of products, systems, and structures. At a higher level, there are two types of engineering: forward
engineering and reverse engineering.
Forward engineering is the traditional process of moving from high-level abstractions and logical
designs to the physical implementation of a system. In some situations, there may be a physical part
without any technical details, such as drawings, bills-of-material, or without engineering data, such as
thermal and electrical properties.
The process of duplicating an eisting component, subassembly, or product, without the aid of
drawings, documentation, or computer model is !nown as reverse engineering.
"everse engineering can be viewed as the process of analy#ing a system to:
$. Identify the system%s components and their interrelationships
&. 'reate representations of the system in another form or a higher level of
(. 'reate the physical representation of that system
"everse engineering is very common in such diverse fields as software engineering,
entertainment, automotive, consumer products, microchips, chemicals, electronics, and mechanical
designs. For eample, when a new machine comes to mar!et, competing manufacturers may buy one
machine and disassemble it to learn how it was built and how it wor!s. 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.
In some situations, designers give a shape to their ideas by using clay, plaster, wood, or foam
rubber, but a 'A) model is needed to enable the manufacturing of the part. As products become more
organic in shape, designing in 'A) may be challenging or impossible. There is no guarantee that the 'A)
model will be acceptably close to the sculpted model. "everse engineering provides a solution to this
problem because the physical model is the source of information for the 'A) model. This is also referred
to as the part-to-'A) process.
Another reason for reverse engineering is to compress product development times. In the
intensely competitive global mar!et, manufacturers are constantly see!ing new ways to shorten lead-
times to mar!et a new product. "apid product development *"+), refers to recently developed
technologies and techni-ues that assist manufacturers and designers in meeting the demands of reduced
product development time. For eample, in.ection-molding companies must drastically reduce the tool and
die development times. /y using reverse engineering, a three-dimensional product or model can be
-uic!ly captured in digital form, re-modeled, and eported for rapid prototyping0tooling or rapid
$. The original manufacturer of a product no longer produces a product
&. There is inade-uate documentation of the original design
(. The original manufacturer no longer eists, but a customer needs the product
1. The original design documentation has been lost or never eisted
2. 3ome bad features of a product need to be designed out. For eample,
ecessive wear might indicate where a product should be improved
4. To strengthen the good features of a product based on long-term usage of the
5. To analy#e the good and bad features of competitors% product
6. To eplore new avenues to improve product performance and features
7. To gain competitive benchmar!ing methods to understand competitor%s
products and develop better products
$8. The original 'A) model is not sufficient to support modifications or current
manufacturing methods
$$. The original supplier is unable or unwilling to provide additional parts
$&. The original e-uipment manufacturers are either unwilling or unable to supply
replacement parts, or demand inflated costs for sole-source parts
$(. To update obsolete materials or anti-uated manufacturing processes with more
current, less-epensive technologies
"everse engineering enables the duplication of an eisting part by capturing the component%s
physical dimensions, features, and material properties. /efore attempting reverse engineering, a well-
planned life-cycle analysis and cost0benefit analysis should be conducted to .ustify the reverse engineering
pro.ects. "everse engineering is typically cost effective only if the items to be reverse engineered reflect a
high investment or will be reproduced in large -uantities. "everse engineering of a part may be attempted
even if it is not cost effective, if the part is absolutely re-uired and is mission-critical to a system.
"everse engineering of mechanical parts involves ac-uiring three-dimensional position data in the
point cloud using laser scanners or computed tomography *'T,. "epresenting 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, 9:"/3 *9on-uniform
rational /-spline, curves, or 9:"/3 surfaces are eported to 'A) pac!ages for further refinement,
analysis, and generation of cutter tool paths for 'A;. Finally, the 'A; produces the physical part.
It can be said that reverse engineering begins with the product and wor!s through the design
process in the opposite direction to arrive at a product definition statement *+)3,. In doing so, it uncovers
as much information as possible about the design ideas that were used to produce a particular product.
The most traditional method of the development of a technology is referred to as <forward
engineering.< In the construction of a technology, manufacturers develop a product by implementing
engineering concepts and abstractions. /y contrast, reverse engineering begins with final product, and
wor!s bac!ward to recreate the engineering concepts by analy#ing the design of the system and the
interrelationships of its components.
=alue engineering refers to the creation of an improved system or product to the one originally
analy#ed. >hile there is often overlap between the methods of value engineering and reverse engineering,
the goal of reverse engineering itself is the improved documentation of how the original product wor!s by
uncovering the underlying design. The wor!ing product that results from a reverse engineering effort is
more li!e a duplicate of the original system, without necessarily adding modifications or improvements to
the original design.
3ince the reverse engineering process can be time-consuming and epensive, reverse engineers
generally consider whether the financial ris! of such an endeavor is preferable to purchasing or licensing
the information from the original manufacturer, if possible.
In order to reverse engineer a product or component of a system, engineers and researchers
generally follow the following four-stage process:
• Identifying the product or component which will be reverse engineered
• ?bserving or disassembling the information documenting how the original
product wor!s
• Implementing the technical data generated by reverse engineering in a replica
or modified version of the original
• 'reating a new product *and, perhaps, introducing it into the mar!et,
In the first stage in the process, sometimes called <prescreening,< reverse engineers determine
the candidate product for their pro.ect. +otential candidates for such a pro.ect include singular items,
parts, components, units, subassemblies, some of which may contain many smaller parts sold as a single
The second stage, disassembly or decompilation of the original product, is the most time-
consuming aspect of the pro.ect. In this stage, reverse engineers attempt to construct a characteri#ation
of the system by accumulating all of the technical data and instructions of how the product wor!s.
In the third stage of reverse engineering, reverse engineers try to verify that the data generated
by disassembly or decompilation is an accurate reconstruction the original system. Engineers verify the
accuracy and validity of their designs by testing the system, creating prototypes, and eperimenting with
the results.
The final stage of the reverse engineering process is the introduction of a new product into the
mar!etplace. These new products are often innovations of the original product with competitive designs,
features, or capabilities. These products may also be adaptations of the original product for use with other
integrated systems, such as different platforms of computer operating systems.
?ften different groups of engineers perform each step separately, using only documents to
echange the information learned at each step. This is to prevent duplication of the original technology,
which may violate copyright. /y contrast, reverse engineering creates a different implementation with the
same functionality.
The reverse engineering process begins with identifying the pro.ect scope.
?nce defined, the appropriate method to capture geometry is selected based on accuracy re-uired, part
geometry, and how the final output will be used.
The part can be physically measured using traditional hand tools, by using non contact inspection
e-uipment by using a touch-probe coo In the reverse engineering process, the geometry can also be
<captured< by mapping the surface with (d scanning services such as a laser scanner,coordinate
measuring machine *';;, ...or a por!"#$ C%%. ...through the use of a white light scanner using a
full contact ';; scanner or by a process called 'apturing @eometry Internally *'@I,. This is a method
involving potting of the part, curing it, milling through the potted sample at pre-defined depths, and
ta!ing scans at each of the milled depths to produce an internal and eternal point cloud geometry. These
various methods of (d scanning services are used to capture a part%%s geometry during the reverse
engineering process.
It is important that the correct method be used to capture geometry for any reverse engineering
pro.ect. The method is dependent on the part shape, re-uired accuracy, pro.ect goals, and how the final
results will be used.
?nce the geometry is captured, the reverse engineering pro.ect continues and the point cloud is produced
and surfacing can beginA
A full parametric (-) 'A) model can be developed, using one of our customer compatible CAD
p#!&or'() ma!ing the reverse-engineered model ready for tooling or additional design modifications
3ome customers re-uire &-) drawings of the component. >e obtain and use your 'A) templates with title
bloc! information. Any other corporate standards are used where necessary. If a template or title bloc! is
not available, weBll use a generic format and follow A93I C$1 drafting standards and employ best practices
in both cases.
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