By Loretta Marie Perera
The field of customizing aircraft is growing. Companies like Tech Strake, specialize in aircraft customization in Japan. According to CEO Masakazu Hikichi, aircraft customization enables an ordinary aircraft like a helicopter to be used in specific applications, such as rescue, police operations, and terrain scanning.
Adding a camera to a helicopter may seem like a simple assignment, but it’s not. In many cases, the camera must face down and diagonally to capture aerial views beneath it. Such a placement requires firm anchoring to the aircraft undercarriage, which requires a high level of detail and customization.
“Different industries need a custom mount, and a lot of the time, such a mount may not be easily available,” Hikichi explained. “For safe installation and to reduce the risk of dangerous flight or something falling off, these large mounts must be custom-built.”
For Hikichi, who has been using 3D scanning for more than a decade – eight years as an employee and for five years as the CEO of his own company, with frequent use of Artec Eva – the idea of using 3D scanning to get the mounting details immediately came to mind.
“When this project came up, as a long-time user of this technology, I already knew how accurate a 3D model I could get out of 3D scanning,” he said.
Teaming up with Artec Ambassador in Japan DataDesign Co., Ltd., a 3D scanning plan was formulated.
Because of the focus on highly specific parts as well as larger surface areas, a combination of Artec Eva and Artec Space Spider was used – Eva for capturing the entire aircraft, and Space Spider for zooming in to capture smaller details.
“Eva is light and easy to carry around,” Hikichi said. “It gets into tight spaces and still has a wide field of view and distance, while Space Spider can get into small crevices, and into parts with very small spaces, while still producing a highly accurate scan.”
The flagship scanner of Artec 3D, Artec Eva holds rank as the company’s most popular scanner with its light weight, ease of use, and versatility. The structured-light 3D scanner is suited for quick and accurate scans of medium-sized objects, ranging from car engines, to a human body, to furniture.
For Tech Strake’s field of work, where specialization is key and accuracy essential, 3D scanning has become vital for streamlined processing of one-off items like mounts, racks, or rigs for helicopters.
“The biggest benefit is the accuracy we can get for measurements of complicated surfaces, like the very small parts that you need for precise measurements around for the best fit.”
This, he said, is difficult to do without 3D scanning, and results in wasted time in manufacturing parts that don’t fit right, which then requires reworking.
First designed for use on the International Space Station, the Space Spider can capture mechanical parts and complex geometries in high resolution, with submillimeter accuracy and vivid color. Sharp edges and thin ribs are no match for the Space Spider, which captures objects with intricate details such as keys, coins, and tiny machine parts.
The entire scanning process took no more than 10 hours – this included the setup required for scanning the inside and outside of the aircraft. After this massive task, scan processing began in Artec Studio: alignment, global registration, erasing unwanted geometry, noise processing, and sharp fusion.
Once the scanning and initial processing were complete, the data were worked on further.
“We synthesized each data set, converted it to CAD data with Geomagic Design X, then used SOLIDWORKS to design the special gear,” he elaborated.
In SOLIDWORKS, the camera mount was designed and modeled around the 3D model that was imported to reverse model the part, keeping every surface and corner of the helicopter in mind. After that, the camera mount model was converted to machining data.
During the machining process, cutting tools remove excess material from a block of aluminum following a computerized path guided by the 3D model. With this combination of 3D scanning and reverse modeling, the team was able to get the best possible fit.
By scanning surfaces both large and small, the scanners have improved the process for the Tech Strake team. “Before buying our Artec scanners, we would carry out manual measurements using calipers and molding using plaster,” Hikichi explained. “Especially when plaster was used, there was a limit to its capabilities and could not be molded cleanly due to dripping, and the efficiency of manual measurement was poor.”
“The Eva and Space Spider 3D scanners have not only massively reduced repetitive work, they have also greatly improved accuracy of data acquisition,” said Hikichi. “In addition, the scanners are highly portable and can be used to scan anywhere, including narrow spaces that were previously difficult to measure.”
“Compared to conventional construction methods, accuracy has been improved from the millimeter to the sub-millimeter level,” Hikichi said, “Therefore, we can greatly reduce rework as much as possible, and as a result, the total man-hours have been greatly reduced.”
Previously, he added, it would take several months to complete and produce a specific part for an aircraft. Now, everything is ready in two weeks. This doesn’t just save time; it saves cost, too.
The Tech Strake team isn’t stopping here – they’ve got their sights set on more scanning opportunities, with plans to use Artec 3D’s new HD Mode and more scanners in the future.