To reverse engineer a physical product, an organization will typically acquire an example of the product in question and take it apart to examine its internal mechanisms. This way, engineers can unveil information about the original design and construction of the product.
When reverse engineering a mechanical product, you start by analyzing the dimensions and attributes of the product in question, be it an aircraft, ship, vehicle, computer or piece of industrial machinery. During this analysis, you make measurements of the widths, lengths and heights of key components in the product, as these dimensions often relate to the product’s performance capacity.
Today, some engineers use 3D scanning technologies to make these kinds of measurements. With three-dimensional scanners, engineers can gain accurate readings of the product’s specs and have this information automatically logged in their databases. 3D scanning technologies include coordinate measuring machines (CMM), industrial computed tomography (CT) scanners, laser scanners and structured light digitizers.
After all the pertinent information has been gathered and recorded, you can use this data to create computer-aided design (CAD) drawings for subsequent analysis and development. CAD drawings are digital two-dimensional and three-dimensional representations of the products, which you can use to analyze the product’s design. These digital models help to unveil design intent and inform the creation of a reverse-engineered component.
Reverse engineering is often necessary in the development of computer parts due to the obsolescence of parts from prior years. For example, you might have one product with a unique innovation from two year’s earlier, but the manufacturer has since gone out of business. To link that innovation to a newer product for convenience and continuity’s sake, the engineering team will need to examine the obsolete product for its technological makeup.
In order to reverse engineer a PCB, technicians start by examining and identifying the various components of the board. Each board will typically have resistors, capacitors, LEDs, a transistor, an inductor and various other features. The task here is to determine how the layout of these features gives the PCB its unique capabilities.
Before disassembly, the reverse-engineering team will photograph the board up close from the front and back to create a record of the board’s composition. Once the notes and images are collected, the engineers begin the process of deconstructing the board.
During disassembly, the team removes each part from the board, one after another. The parts must be set aside for safekeeping and organized in the order they were removed. This way, the board can be reassembled later on, if necessary. In cases where the objective is to replicate the design in question, engineers might test their ability to replicate the product by disassembling and reassembling an existing copy several times over.
As the team sets aside removed components, they take value measurements of key parts, including the capacitors and resistors. This step helps the team gain a greater understanding of the engineering that went into the original design. It also provides insight into how the board’s components work together to enable the PCB to function correctly.
With the various components removed from the old board, the team then draws up a list of the materials and the order in which they were placed on the PCB. The team will also scan the board’s trace pattern so that they can recreate it later.
The reverse-engineering team may then use the pieces at hand and the information collected to assemble a new board. First, they lay out a new board and then install the components in the same order used for the original PCB. Once assembled, the new board is run through a series of tests to determine its functionality. The team will digitally document the results of these tests for future study.
Reverse engineering provides manufacturers with information about the design of a product or component. When done successfully, reverse engineering gives you a virtual copy of the blueprint that went into the original design.
Reverse engineering is perhaps the most accurate way to recreate the designs for items that went out of production decades beforehand. In cases where the original blueprints are long since lost or destroyed, reverse engineering is perhaps the only way to bring such products back to life. If you can obtain a working model of an old product, you can typically trace the steps of its design and use those insights to construct a new model, repair a part or improve future products.
Below are some of the most common uses of reverse engineering.
1. Legacy Parts Replacement
One of the most common reverse engineering applications is legacy parts replacement, which involves examining and reproducing select parts of larger machines to keep them in operation.
For example, a factory might have a large engine compartment that keeps the entire conveyor system running through each day’s work shift. Every once in a while, one of the machine parts will wear out and need to be replaced. If the machine is old, certain parts might no longer be in production, either because the OEM no longer makes the part of is out of business.
While the factory could make a huge investment in a new conveyor system, the preferable option is to retain the same equipment and replace the faulty part. With reverse engineering, you can use a 3D scanner to digitally replicate the design of the defective part. From there, a new copy of the component can be created and installed into the machine.
Depending on the size and complexity of the component in question, the initial cost to have it reverse engineered could exceed the price of a newer or different model. However, once you have created a digital copy of the original design and successfully replicated the part, you can use that information to recreate the component again and again. Reverse engineering allows you to reproduce parts that work in your preferred mechanical setups, regardless of whether the original manufacturers are still in business.
2. Parts Service or Repair
If a legacy part or a component the OEM no longer supports needs repair or service, it’s useful to have an understanding of how the product works. This knowledge can help to complete the repair accurately and efficiently. If there aren’t any design documents available, a company may use reverse engineering to create them. You can then use this information to inform how you repair or service the part. The data you gain from reverse engineering can help you determine which components you need to replace to fix a given problem. It can also inform your repair process by helping you better understand how best to access, remove and replace a certain part.
3. Failure Analysis
Reverse engineering techniques can play a valuable role in failure analysis. If a machine fails, you may need to take it apart or examine design files to determine why. Once you have this information, you know how to fix or improve the product so that it functions properly again.
Examining a product using reverse engineering can reveal damaged parts of faulty designs. Looking at digital design files created through reverse engineering can also reveal flaws and help inform how you plan to repair a piece of equipment.
4. Parts Improvement
Reverse engineering is also used for parts improvement. You might need to alter a component after conducting a failure analysis, or a particular might just be due for an upgrade. If no replacement or alternative part is available on the market, you could have the part reverse engineered to create a copy of the original design. From there, you could modify the design for improved performance.
If a machine requires stronger joints or weld reinforcements, the faulty parts will be examined for their measurements and redesigned with increased thickness or stronger metals. Through reverse engineering, you can determine which dimensions must be maintained and which aspects you can change. If you could combine two or more parts into a single, more functional component, reverse engineering could bring that fact to light.
5. Diagnostics and Problem-Solving
Reverse engineering can also be used for diagnostics and problem-solving in a sequence of industrial processes. In a factory setting, the flow of operations can sometimes slow due to a faulty or underperforming function. When a manufacturing system consists of numerous machines and components, it can be difficult to pinpoint the source of the problem. Through reverse engineering, you can determine how everything works as one and use that knowledge to identify where things can and do go wrong.
As technology continues to develop and advance, reverse engineering is necessary for the continuity of today’s existing manufacturing systems. Without reverse engineering, companies would be forced to replace entire machines regularly, investing vast sums of money in the process.
With reverse engineering, you can retain the products that work and recreate parts that fail, regardless of the product’s age and whether or not the original maker is still in business. At Astro Machine Works, we do reverse engineering for organizations in various sectors, including the aerospace, electronics and medical industries. Contact us today to learn more about our services.