3D scanners are starting to find a market in South Africa, as companies look for powerful and convenient ways to span the gap between digital workflows and the world of physical, three-dimensional objects.

The global market for 3D scanners – which HP estimates to be worth around $7-billion a year – is expected to show good growth as vendors start to build an ecosystem to support the technology.

That’s according to Shaun Berndt, HP IPG business unit manager at Tarsus Distribution, who says that the company has started to sell its first HP 3D scanning solutions into the South African market. With companies such as HP Inc throwing their weight behind 3D – and building a 3D business that spans 3D printing, 3D scanning, software and services – the technology is becoming increasingly accessible and useful.

Berndt says that HP created a stir in the emerging market for 3D scanning in 2016 when it acquired David Vision Systems and David 3D Solutions to get access to their innovative 3D hardware and software assets. HP bought the two companies, part of a German group, to create an end-to-end 3D ecosystem, from creation to 3D print via HP’s Jet Fusion Solution.

HP is using David 3D scanning technology, scan algorithms and automated calibration methods to enhance its Sprout 3D Capture and Immersive Computing portfolio. This is an essential ingredient for blending the physical and virtual worlds, and enables HP to reach a broad range of industry segments, including education, healthcare, design and research with powerful solutions.

Some examples of how 3D scanning is being used around the world are:

* Archaeologists use 3D scanners to capture digital models of artefacts for measurement and analysis. They can use a 3D printer to make a copy of an artefact to study without potentially damaging an old, fragile object; they can also share the scan with colleagues in their field from around the world for collaboration.

* Artists at animation studios can use a 3D scanner to import their sculptures of videogame or film characters and objects. They can then easily manipulate the digital scan of their digital concept, without the tedious manual workarounds they used in the past.

* Dental labs scan dental models of a patient’s teeth from a negative mould supplied by the dentists.

* Manufacturers can inspect finished goods and components on a production line without needing to handle them physically.

* Designers or toolmakers can scan prototypes for modification and manipulation in a CAD package.

* 3D scans can be used to populate virtual reality games and simulations.

“Integration of 3D scanning makes 3D printing more powerful and useful for professional applications,” says Berndt. “It enables companies to embed 3D printing into processes such as iterative prototyping or replacement of obsolete parts with ease.”