Friday, September 30, 2016

Digital photography: The future of small-scale manufacturing

Digital photography: The future of small-scale manufacturing: What if it were possible to quickly and inexpensively manufacture a part simply by using a series of close-range digital images taken of the object? Michael Immel, instructor in the Harold and Inge Marcus Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering, originally started thinking about the technique, called photogrammetry, for a different purpose, but quickly realized its application in manufacturing.

In this technique, digital images of an object that have been taken at various angles are used to create a point cloud - or a large collection of points used to create 3D representation of existing structures - from which a computer-aided design (CAD) file can be generated.

The resulting CAD file and subsequent 3D model could then be used to rebuild the part, or 3D print it, to its original specifications without using traditional methods, which are both expensive and time-consuming.

"If we can take pictures of the parts and use commercial software to create the point cloud file from the images, we can come up with the dimensions within some reasonable amount of accuracy and apply it in industry," Immel explained.

Immel received a seed grant from his department's Entrepreneurship and Innovation Fund to explore whether photogrammetry can be a more efficient way of manufacturing low-tolerance parts - parts that have sufficient limits of variation and do not have to fit into assemblies - such as large pipes and manhole covers.