Polhemus brings 3-D lasers to woodshops

Polhemus has introduced a handheld 3-D laser scanner, called the FastSCAN, which can create a 3-D digital replica of an object in seconds. At IWF 2008, the company touted various versions of the product.

FastSCAN can be used to digitalize the surface of objects for animation, prototyping, 3-D measurement and archiving, for example. In a motion similar to using a spray gun, the handheld laser’s scanning wand is swept over an object, projecting a fan of laser light captured by a camera that records cross-sectional depth profiles. The object’s image immediately appears on a computer screen for monitoring and control purposes. The laser comes in a kit the size of a briefcase and sets up in minutes.

While the 3-D laser scanning technology for capturing models has been around for about 15 years, it is generally new to the woodworking industry. Neil Schell, director of business development for Polhemus, says the product’s target market includes small- to medium-sized woodworking shops.

“The major advantage is time-saving for these shops. They spend many hours, if not weeks, recreating some of these more complex parts. With the FastSCAN, this time can be reduced to minutes,” says Schell.

A primary feature of the FastSCAN is the accuracy it produces, allowing users to make identical replicas of furniture, moldings and other items with difficult and intricate shapes. From a scanned image, a digital file is produced that can be sent to a CNC machine.

“With CNC mills and routers, you need the data in digital form and it’s very difficult to get the detailed shapes such as in millwork, crown molding and furniture into digital form. In the past, what they’ve done is with what they call touch probe, digitizing points one-by-one, a very slow process that creates a file in which they can send to the router.”

After an item is scanned to a 3-D model, the image can be scaled up or down, or the design can be altered. However, FastSCAN can not scan clear objects like glass or plastic, and it also has difficulty with black or shiny objects because of their reflective properties.

FastSCAN’s base price is $21,500.