Reverse Engineering Defined

Reverse Engineering

What Is Reverse Engineering?

Reverse engineering is the process of inspecting, analyzing, and reconstructing the design of a product, part, tool, software, etc. in order to reproduce its construction and composition. Here we focus on recreating a part or product without any help from drawings, documentation, or models, using just the part to be reverse engineered itself.

Reverse engineering lets you discover the methods and materials to create something. It allows you to discover the design of an already existing object. You can use it to learn the design process or you can go a step further to actually redesign the process.

Reverse engineering is a process that takes a device, system, or software program apart and starts determining the details and inner workings of the product. It is often done in order to construct a new device that has the same process without copying from the original. Engineers learn from the defects of existing designs and then use that knowledge to redesign a part or product. In the process, the object of the redesign is detected, observed, analyzed, and tested according to its performance.

3D Measuring

Engineering is used in designing, constructing, and maintaining products, devices, or programs. It is common in software engineering, products, chemicals, mechanical designs, entertainment, etc. There are two types of engineering. The first is forward engineering, and the second is reverse engineering, or back engineering.

Forward engineering is the process of going from logical designs to physical execution of the system. Reverse engineering is just the opposite. It examines a system (a part or product for example) and creates a physical representation of that system in the form of a product, device, part, or software from data collected from the original part.

Often when a machine comes onto the market, it will be bought and reverse engineered in an effort to thwart a rival company. However, companies that engage in reverse engineering should have a thought-out product life cycle, as well as both a cost and a benefit analysis in order to justify the process. Here is an example of reverse engineering that required additional consideration.

What Is The Goal Of Reverse Engineering?

Companies will reverse engineer a product or part for several different reasons, including:

  • The part is no longer made by the original manufacturer or can’t be obtained
  • Part or product design documentation is either inadequate or nonexistent
  • The customer needs a new part, but the manufacturer no longer exists.
  • The part features and performance need to be improved or enhanced
  • To understand competitor’s products and develop better products
  • Original CAD (Computer-Aided Design) model is not adequate for manufacturing
  • Inflated costs for replacement parts in a single-source situation
  • Current, less-expensive technologies are needed to replace obsolete methods

Usually, the ultimate goal of reverse engineering is to create a new CAD design for use in manufacturing. 

What Is The Reverse Engineering Process?

Simply put, the reverse engineering process involves scanning a product or part, getting and analyzing data from the scan, creating a CAD model from the information, then recreating the physical product:

  1. CAD scanning is performed to capture complex data using techniques like rapid surfacing or solid modeling. Rapid surfacing allows you to quickly and easily put together a solid model from a scan. Solid modeling is based on a consistent set of 3-D design principles focused on fidelity to the physical nature of an object. Reverse engineering is a highly precise process where we scan your physical part with our HD laser scanner and use that data to produce millions of data points that we then process into a file you can use to 3D print your part at any scale.
3D Scanning
  1. Using data from the scan, a CAD model can be created.  This is the most important step in the reverse engineering design process, as we take those millions of data points and process them into a usable parametric CAD model.  What does this mean? We create a 3D CAD file that you can open in Solidworks and edit, add, subtract and modify every individual feature of the part. If you are simply wanting to 3D print your part, you will need an .STL file. If you’re using a CNC (Computer Numerical Control) shop, you will need a .STEP file.
  1. Both hardware and software are used to measure the object and reconstruct it. Hardware such as a laser scanner, a structured light digitizer, or a measuring machine could be used. And a variety of different software may be used to recreate the product, for example, Solidworks 3D CAD. Drawings and documentation are also often produced.

Note that we can either perform a simple scan if you are 3D printing or we can fully reverse engineer your products or parts.

What Should Be Considered Before Reverse Engineering A Product?

Although almost any kind of product or part can be reverse engineered, there are a few things a company should think about before engaging:

  • Does the part have an existing patent? If yes, there could be legal ramifications.
  • Is the part simple or complex?  If the part is too complex, in going through the process, inaccuracies can occur. These errors may need to be addressed by a human being, which can increase the cost of the project.
  • What is the size of the object? Sometimes very small parts are difficult to reverse engineer.
  • Is the part in good condition? Worn out, cracked, or otherwise damaged parts can be hard to scan properly and software errors can happen.
Reverse Engineer

Why Do Engineers Perform Reverse Engineering On Products?

There are a number of reasons that engineers or companies will reverse engineer a product including part(s) improvement, competitor intelligence, replacement of legacy parts, problem-solving to eliminate defects, creating product documentation, educational intentions, and other reasons.

Reverse engineering is often used in industries such as the automotive, avionics, and medical device industries. Specific examples include air-conditioning and refrigeration systems, mechanical seals, dryer housing assemblies, high-temperature washer assemblies, bleed-air valve components, etc. Reverse engineering can help companies in these industries to not only get to market faster with products but also to improve their current efficiencies, saving them both time and money.

Reverse Engineering

According to Quality magazine, reverse engineering continues to expand its role in the industry. At Idea2Parts, our goal is to help companies understand the process of reverse engineering and how it can help you, as well as to assist you with your projects. 

We will be glad to chat with you about your needs and answer any questions you may have. 

Give us a call toll-free at 866-IDEA-2-PARTS (866-433-2272) or locally at 281-444-5400. Or email us at