Evolution of Reverse Engineering

Introduction

In today’s intensely competitive global market, product enterprises are constantly seeking new ways to shorten lead times for new product developments that meet all customer expectations. In general, product enterprise has invested in CAD/CAM, rapid prototyping, and a range of new technologies that provide business benefits. Nowadays, reverse engineering (RE) is considered one of the technologies that provide business benefits by shortening the product development cycle [1]. Figure 1, shows how reverse engineering can close the gap between what is “as designed” and what is “actually manufactured” [1].

Product Development
Figure 1. Product Development Cycle. SOURCE: : [1]
Reverse engineering (RE) is now recognized as an important factor in the product design process which highlights inverse methods, deduction and discovery in design. In mechanical engineering, RE has evolved from capturing technical product data, and initiating the manual redesign procedure while enabling efficient concurrency benchmarking into a more elaborated process based on advanced computational models and modern digitizing technologies [2]. Today the application of RE is used to produce 3D digital models of various mechanical worn or broken parts. The main steps in any reverse engineering procedure are: sensing the geometry of the existing object; creating a 3D model; and manufacturing by using an appropriate CAD/CAM system [2].

RE plays a major role of product development in almost every industry but it is especially important when it comes to turbomachinery development, maintenance, re-rates, and life prediction/extension strategies. Like any machinery, turbomachinery such as compressors, turbines, pumps, etc., which have been operating for many years, require scheduled and unscheduled maintenance and overhaul. In fact, spare parts, troubleshooting, operating condition changes, design upgrades and sometimes complete re-rates are commonly needed by all operators.

For a significant amount of these old machines, documentation such as reports and drawings is not available due to a variety of reasons, therefore keeping these important machines running is a challenge. One of the options to deal with this issue is to buy the modern analogue of the machine, which is not always feasible due to economic constraints or that there is no replacement available.  Therefore, reverse engineering of the worn-out parts of these machines might be the best or only option in the majority of these cases.

What is reverse engineering?

This is a very common question.

Reverse engineering is a term used for the process of examining an existing component to see how it works in order to duplicate or enhance the component when you don’t have the original drawing/models, documentation or manufacturing information about that component. Unlike the traditional design process which begins from scratch with a concept/technical specification from which the component is constructed, reverse engineering starts with the final or existing component and works through the design process backwards to arrive at the component’s design/technical specification to improve upon or redesign that machine.

Nowadays, in most cases, the process to recover original geometry (dimensional information) of the component via 3D scanning is the first and major step for all reverse engineering projects, whether you want to simply replace/replicate parts or proceed with an extensive upgrade to the machine. RE involves acquiring three-dimensional positional data in the point cloud. There are many ways of gathering this dimensional information of the component, but using an accurate 3D measuring system is paramount. The accuracy of the data captured will impact the quality and deviation of the RE model when compared to the original one.

Some Major Reasons Why Reverse Engineering is Used

  • For an existing machine which has outdated components that were designed and manufactures years ago and are in need of repair or replacement components to maintain the function of that existing machine, reverse engineering is the right choice to gain the geometric information to replicate and reproduce the component.
  • When the original manufacturer (OEM) of a product had stopped producing a component or has lost the original component’s design measurements, then RE can be used to obtain information and recreate the component.
  • When the existing component or product can be captured in digital form and remodeled or analyzed to improve the function of existing machine while meeting all existing constraints.
  • When a new machine or product comes to market, any competing manufacturers can reverse engineer the machine to learn how it built it, how it works, and use that information for developing better new machines.
  • To reduce manufacturing cost of the new product by compressing product development time and making it competitive in market.

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Reverse Engineering Process

  1. Data Collection: Data collection is a two-part process. The first part of any reverse engineering process is data collection of an object / component. To do this, the object needs to be taken apart and studied. Not too long ago, the only way to do this was to disassembled the items and make careful hand measurements to replicate items for RE tasks. Nowadays, designers use advanced 3D scanning tools to record the required information of an object in addition to any existing documentation, drawings or reports which exists. The second part in data processing is to convert the data gathered in part one into useful information. Computers are essential for this stage as it can involve the processing of billions of coordinates of data converting this information into 2D drawings or 3D models by utilizing CAD systems.
  1. Data Modeling: The next step in RE is data modeling, in this step designers can utilize digital modeling, which represents all details of the geometrical and operational conditions of the object through a range of operation regimes. Typically, performance analysis and structural evaluation are done at this stage, by utilizing thermodynamic or aerodynamic analytical tools, including 3D CFD and FEA approaches. Improvement / redesign of the object can be another part of this Data Modeling step in the RE process, where innovations can be created to improve the effectiveness of the object based on the collected data about the object’s geometry and operation.
  1. Manufacturing: Finally, after the needed object / component has been modeled and meets the design requirements, manufacturing is the final step in which the object can be manufactured to replace a worn-out part, or to provide increased functionality.

 

Some Major Benefits of Reverse Engineering

  • Designers can reproduce products and parts without needing the original drawings, design measurements and specifications.
  • RE extends the life of any machinery and equipment, which in turn reduces operating cost.
  • It can save time and human resource required because designers don’t have to create a product design entirely from scratch.
  • Designers can easily make minor adjustments to a design and can achieve an improved product.
  • Cost saving for developing a new product.

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Reverse Engineering Challenges

One of the main challenges in RE is to convert the scanned data of a component into useful information. As mentioned previously in this article, this is done by utilizing CAD systems which involves the processing of billions of coordinates of data by converting this information into 2D drawings or 3D models, but this is time-consuming task. To complete this step in shortest time possible is a very important and challenging task, which can drastically save designers time and effort required for RE task if done well.

Another challenge of RE is recovering the geometry of damaged components which have experienced significant change in geometry due to the challenges of long-term operations where the shape could not be directly recovered by traditional methods such as direct measurements or laser scanning. In this scenario, designers only have the undamaged portion of original part, which means relying on the original may be impossible to recover the needed portion due to a significant level of damage.

For example, to recover the damaged airfoils of a compressor, turbine, or pump, with sufficient accuracy based on only a scan of the original damaged part would be very difficult. In order to recover the full airfoil shape of these turbomachine’s blading, the information about flow conditions such as angles, velocities, pressure, temperature – is required to recreate the airfoils profiles and a complete 3D blade. In most of the blading damage cases, the information obtained from aero/thermodynamic analysis is the only source of the information available for a designer and the only possible way to recover turbomachinery blading. In such case the new airfoil will be developed based on aero/thermodynamic information and also by considering the remaining portion of the part, this will be the most accurate representation of the original airfoil. In this stage, addition to the aero/thermodynamics study, a structural evaluation should also be performed for the recovered part of the airfoil to ensure blading structural reliability.

In any RE process with the help of aero/thermodynamic studies, any damaged component of turbomachine can be recovered with maximum accuracy. To achieve this in less time, with less effort and a using a designer with minimum knowledge on RE procedure, it is essential to have a specialized software which is capable of performing accurate aero/thermodynamic analysis.

Software for Reverse Engineering 

The right software in the RE process will take a cloud of data points and connect them together to form a digital model of the original object accurately and quickly.

All the above mentioned RE challenges require a specialized software such as AxSTREAM® platform, which can perform accurate modeling of turbomachinery flow path, 1D/2D aero/thermodynamic analysis with 3D CFD in some cases, 3D blade profiling, and structural analysis using FEA tools, etc.

SoftInWay offers a complete turbomachinery design and analysis tools within the integrated AxSTREAM® platform, which covers many steps that are required for reverse engineering process. Figure 2, shows the process diagram of AxSTREAM® products use in RE process.

Process Diagram of AxSTREAM Products Used in Reverse Engineering
Figure 2. Process Diagram of AxSTREAM Products Used in Reverse Engineering

As shown in Figure 2, after data is captured from the original object, most of the RE process steps mentioned in this article are processed by AxSTREAM® modules. Once a designer has the scanned cloud of points of the available turbomachinery’s blade geometry data, it is possible to recognize and extract the profile angles very quickly, easily and accurately using a specialized tool called AxSLICE™. Using AxSLICE™, designers can obtain slices on the desired number of sections. Then the extracted geometric data can be inserted to AxSTREAM® project for flow path creation. Once the flow path is generated, AxSTREAM® solver is used to perform 1D/2D aero/thermodynamic analysis. Designers can also use AxSTREAM® profiler module to perform blade profiling adjustments and recover profile shapes to achieve existing / improved performance. After recovering the blade profile shape using AxSTRESS™ designers can perform structural evaluation based on the FEA method. Finally, AxCFD™ can be used to perform a detailed aerodynamic analysis and performance evaluation, if required.

In this way, reverse engineering can be done for any turbomachine using AxSTREAM® platform, the recovered geometry can be exported in different file formats to develop detailed 3D CAD model and 2D drawings for further technological and/or manufacturing process.

An example of one such configuration of axial turbine reverse engineered using AxSLICE™ module of AxSTREAM® platform is shown in Figure 3.

Examples of an Axial Turbine Reverse Engineered
Figure 3. Example of Axial Turbine Reverse Engineered Using AxSLICE™

Digital Twin Development through Reverse Engineering Using the AxSTREAM® Platform

Digital twins are revolutionizing the industry. However, the digital twin is far from realizing their potential, which is a complex system and long-drawn process[3]. A digital twin is an intelligent virtual representation of a physical object and/or process that uses real-time data to understand, learn, and predict the physical counterpart’s current and future performance characteristics. In other words, digital twins provide designers with virtual tools that allow them to look at, explore, and assess physical assets, processes, and systems. With this ability, it is possible to get an accurate view of what is happening now, as well as what will happen in the future. The digital twin adds the ability to monitor turbomachinery’s performance over time, empowered by advances in digital technology. Designers can make more informed choices for future designs and make simulations even more accurate. More importantly, digital twins make predictive maintenance possible. Instead of over-servicing or over-maintaining turbomachinery to perform repairs, replace components and avoid downtime, designers can visualize exactly when and where maintenance is needed, instead of making blind guesses. Once any turbomachine has been reverse engineered, a digital twin of it can be created and calibrated using AxSTREAM® platform.

Conclusion

Reverse engineering plays an important role in turbomachinery development, maintenance, re-rates and upgrades, etc. In most of the situations, RE is necessary for turbomachinery part replacements due to operation of these machines for many years and experienced damaging effects of use over the time, such as corrosion, water droplets and solid particles erosion, unexpected operating conditions, and other damage. Beside this expected repair, some other reason for RE might arise from a components part failure, as well as part alteration needed due to previous overhauls and re-rates. Therefore, keeping these old machines running is very important and RE might be the best option for it. Software like AxSLICE™ from AxSTREAM® platform makes this RE process quick, easy and accurate. All components of complex turbomachinery can be reverse engineered within very short time and effort using AxSTREAM® platform. Having a profession tools such as AxSTREAM® is crucial to perform complete reverse engineering and create a digital twin quickly with minimal errors.

Are you interested in learning more about reverse engineering and digital twin creation? Register for our upcoming webinar on “Rapid Reverse Engineering and Digital Twin Development with AxSTREAM®” by clicking Here or reach out to us at Info@Softinway.com to schedule a demo!

References:

  1. https://d2t1xqejof9utc.cloudfront.net/files/113072/___Reverse_Engineering_-_An_Industrial_Perspective%28b-ok.org%29.pdf?1501590994
  2. Ciocanea A, Nicolaie S, Babutanu C. Reverse engineering for the rotor blades of a horizontal axis microhydrokinetic turbine. J Energy Procedia 2017;112:35-42, Elsevier, doi:10.1016/j.egypro.2017.03.1056
  3. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/336870688_Enabling_technologies_and_tools_for_digital_twin