These slides use concepts from my (Jeff Funk) course entitled analyzing hi-tech opportunities to analyze how the economic feasibility of 3D scanners is becoming better through improvements in lasers, camera ICs, and processor ICs. 3D scanning is both a complement to 3D printing and a technology with its own unique applications. 3D printing of complex objects can be done from a CAD database or from a 3D scan where a 3D scan can be done with laser or other sources of white light such as LEDs.
3D scanning can also be done for other purposes. For example, scientists and engineers are using 3D scanners to survey archeological, construction, crime scene, and engineering sites, to document maintenance and repair of engineered systems, and to customize medical and dental products for humans. Improvements in lasers, LEDs, camera chips, ICs, and other components continue to improve the economic feasibility of 3D scanning. Longer wavelength lasers increase the scanning range, better camera chips improve the scanning resolution, and better lasers, camera chips, and processor ICs reduce the scanning time. For example, third generation scanners from Argon, one leading supplier, have 100 times higher resolution and one tenth the scan times of Argon’s first generation system.
For costs, lasers make up the largest percentage followed by camera and processor ICs. For example, lasers make up 80% of the hardware cost for one high-end system with a current cost of $1346 and a price of about $3000. As laser costs fall and as volumes enable smaller margins, the price of such systems will fall.
For the same reasons, low-end systems continue to emerge. These include Microsoft’s Kinect and an app for the iPhone. Microsoft’s Kinect was $150 while the app was only $4.99, both in early 2013. As such low-end systems proliferate, and high-end systems continue to get cheaper, 3D scanning will find new applications.