Seeing is Believing

Dec. 29, 2011
Reverse engineering helps a customer-oriented retailer record millions in annual sales

Not every CAD project involves critical military or aerospace components, and some tasks may seem fairly mundane. Think of sunglasses: Many of us may lose a pair every few months and think little of it. We just buy a replacement pair. But, the ability to replicate a design or innovate an improvement has real consequences that can be valuable — even “irreplaceable” — to customers.

Buyers can choose their preferred prescription sunglass lens thanks to a 2-in.-diameter injection molded plastic ring.

Recently, a national marketing services provider contacted NVision Inc.’s Engineering Service Division to reverse engineer an essential component of an in-store display for one of the nation’s largest optical retailers. NVision was able to scan the part quickly and deliver the CAD files necessary to mass-produce it via plastic injection molding, for displays in stores nationwide. The speed and availability of the service supported millions of dollars in annual sales.

WebbMason is an on-demand marketing services provider whose clients include one of the largest optical retailers in the U.S. For the retailer’s stores, Webbmason developed a customized display to show multiple different types of sunglass lens coatings. The display uses small plastic rings, about 2 in. in diameter, into which the sales representative can snap a sample lens that customers may look through to help them decide which style they prefer. It’s an important and effective technique that improves customer service and promotes sales for the retailer.

NVision Inc. was established in 1990 to provide customers with high-accuracy non-contact optical measurement systems and services for reverse engineering and inspection. Its primary markets are aerospace, power generation, and oil/gas industries, and it provides both contract scanning services and systems sales throughout North America. Its customers include large OEMs like Boeing, General Electric, Lockheed Martin, Porsche, Raytheon, Siemens, and Toyota, as well as the National Aeronautic and Space Administration and the U.S. Dept. of Defense.

“We invented and provide the display these sample lenses are used with and we also distribute the sample lenses themselves, but we've only recently been asked to provide the lens rings the sample lenses snap into. So this was an entirely new product for us,” said Dan Michels, senior account executive & retail solutions specialist for Webbmason. “I did some research and discovered that, although we have physical samples of the part, plastic injection molders still need a CAD drawing from which to make their molds for mass-production. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a CAD drawing of an existing ring.

“I did further research into reverse engineering and learned that one way to obtain a CAD file of a part is have it scanned with a 3D laser scanning system,” he continued, “and then to create the CAD drawing from the scan.”

Michels learned about NVision’s scanning services from the company’s engineers. “I could immediately tell that these guys were pros. They knew what they were doing, they were well-equipped and staffed to provide me with exactly what I needed. Above all, they were willing and interested in working with me.”

NVision engineers used a handheld laser scanner to capture the lens ring dimensions. The NVision scanner is a powerful portable device capable of capturing 3D geometry from objects of almost any size or shape. The scanner is attached to a mechanical arm that moves about the object, freeing the user to capture data rapidly with a high degree of resolution and accuracy. An optional tripod provides complete portability in the field. Intuitive software allows full model editing, polygon reduction, and data output to all standard CAD packages.

The scanning process took less than a day. After it was completed, NVision provided Michels with the CAD files necessary to mass-produce the ring for the display.

“Lens coatings are any optical retailer's most profitable product, so selling Rx sunglasses is pretty important,” said Michels. “It can be said that NVision’s help with this part enables millions of dollars of our client’s most profitable sales annually. They also helped us add another product to our already broad offering and I’m looking forward to working with them on my next custom retail display project.”

About the Author

Robert Brooks | Content Director

Robert Brooks has been a business-to-business reporter, writer, editor, and columnist for more than 20 years, specializing in the primary metal and basic manufacturing industries. His work has covered a wide range of topics, including process technology, resource development, material selection, product design, workforce development, and industrial market strategies, among others. Currently, he specializes in subjects related to metal component and product design, development, and manufacturing — including castings, forgings, machined parts, and fabrications.

Brooks is a graduate of Kenyon College (B.A. English, Political Science) and Emory University (M.A. English.)