Reverse Engineering of CAD Files: 5 Best Tools and Techniques

Reverse engineering, also known as backward or back engineering, is the process of reconstructing a product’s design data in a format from which new parts can be made.

To put it simply, to reverse engineer an object means to dismantle it to see how it works. Many things can be “studied” this way such as software, machines, military equipment, and even CAD files. The method gets more accessible with the increasing popularity of 3D printing.

Depending on the technology, the knowledge gained during reverse engineering can be used to repurpose obsolete objects, do a security analysis, or gain a competitive advantage. But often, the goal of reverse-engineering software is to find a way to replicate an object, creating a similar product.

This poses a serious threat to IP when it comes to CAD files, as they can be easily modified or duplicated. Changing a small part of an unprotected CAD file makes it a different file from a legal perspective.

How does the reverse-engineering process work?

The process consists of several stages and depends on the object on which it’s being performed. Generally, the process goes as follows:

  1. Collecting data. The first thing an engineer needs to figure out is how the parts of an object fit together. Data may be collected in several ways, with 3D scanning allowing designers to account for as many details as possible. The method works by stitching together photos from different angles to form a three-dimensional object. However, depending on the piece geometry, measurements can be carried out with metrology equipment.

Scanning techniques and tools

Xtract3D is an add-on installed on SolidWorks. Designed specifically for reverse-engineering purposes, it aims at the proper tracing of even the most complex and organic shapes. Then, the model may be used in any CAD program. It only requires SolidWorks to function and uses a subscription model, with a minimum three months purchase.

Fusion 360 is an Autodesk program that can be used both to work with CADs and 3D scans. It also provides several analytics tools for stress simulations and shapes optimization. The program is free for students, educators, and small businesses.

Artec3D offers a wide range of 3D scanners, from handheld to metrology-grade ones. The company also offers software aimed at simplifying the scanning process. It may take some time for users to get acquainted with the scanners, but it’ll be worth the trouble. It also has an autopilot feature easing the process for new users.

RecFusion is a solution for creating 3D models in real-time. It supports a large variety of sensors like Azure Kinect, Intel RealSense, Orbbec Astra, and others. The software has two versions: the standard single-sensor one and the multi-sensor “PRO” version, both designed for Windows OS only.

Qlone stands out as the most user-friendly smartphone app for 3D scanning that works with either Android or iOS. The app uses augmented reality (AR) to help the user figure out how to scan things. The app requires a special QR-code-like platform that may be printed on regular paper. The platform limits the size of a scanned object serving as a tracking feature for the app. The app uses a freemium business model, according to which you can scan objects with no money charged, but exporting a 3D scan isn’t free.

Challenges related to reverse engineering

Things are relatively simple with machinery — as long as you have obtained the original object legally, nothing stops you from disassembling it to learn how it works. But reverse-engineering software to copy or duplicate CAD files may constitute a copyright law violation.

When a reverse-engineering case is brought to the court of law, the original owner of the files must prove that they created it or own the patent or copyright. Patenting CAD files is a challenge too, but it may be enough, since copyright violators may slightly change your original design to make it look different. And in this case, one needs a team of specialists and lawyers to prove that the design was modified. This is rather expensive and very time-consuming.

But there is an easier way out — meet BORIS, our Autodesk Inventor plugin. It registers CAD files on blockchain, time-stamping the object so that the owner always has proof of creation over the file.

The solution uses the CADTrack web interface that connects files to the owner and makes it possible to observe all changes made over the files. This makes it possible to transfer files safely over the internet, as blockchain is known to be tamper-resistant, so no changes can be done to it, without approval.

Try BORIS out for yourself, register for beta!

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CADChain is a software company utilizing blockchain and legal tech to create solutions for IP protection