What is the Reverse Engineering Process?

Reverse engineering is a term used to loosely describe the process of deducing how a product works. It is rare though when standard reverse engineering processes are used, or even considered. Like forward engineering—which is always used in the product development process—reverse engineering has proven steps that can add consistency to a convoluted set of tasks.

Where Does Reverse Engineering Make Sense?

Unlike forward engineering, reverse engineering needs often stem from the question of how a product works, lacking CAD drawings, mock-ups, or documentation to reference. Some of the most common ways reverse engineering is used in a manufacturing environment may include:

  • Create or re-create missing digital models of products.
  • Build additional products or parts without drawings or schematics.
  • A part or component of a product is no longer being produced.
  • Re-design of defective or under-performing products.
  • Refresh out-dated manufacturing methods or types of materials.

Reverse engineering is useful from a quality assurance standpoint. Disassembly of all components and pieces will yield a greater understanding of how well a product was constructed. This process grants the opportunity for tolerance measurements to be conducted post-assembly, ensuring that material strength and measurements are as expected. Additionally, protecting yourself from patent infringement may require reverse engineering of a similar competitor’s product.

Accurate Information Gathering Is the Foundation of Reverse Engineering

The data gathered during the reverse engineering process will serve as a virtual sketch, ideally to be displayed within powerful CAD software. Capturing this data from the part of the product you are seeking to reverse engineer will be the same regardless of your end goal. Measurements must be precise, and nuances such as material types down to the exact tension of screws must be tediously recorded for later analysis.

The technology required to take and record these measurements while vigilantly tracking them all will vary from project to project. Traditional tools, such as calipers, depth gauges, and scales, will reveal only some secrets of the products you are working with. Advanced technical options, like laser scanners and 3D scanners, will add a high degree of precision to your measurements. Cutting-edge tools present you with 3D data outputs that can be imported into CAD for further refinement.

a 3D scan is performed as part of the reverse engineering process

Create Accurate Models Using Accurate Data and Measurements

With the measurements now complete, and all observations recorded, your computer should hold the detailed dimensions and specifications of every aspect of the product you’re working with. From there you can begin the virtual building of the item within CAD software for analysis and manipulation. The automated functions contained within CAD software will deliver highly accurate and easy to understand final results.

Powerful CAD software can build a virtual representation of the product being reverse-engineered, presenting you with cost-effective, and time-saving options. The digital nature of the drawings will allow for collaboration regardless of geographic proximity to the project team or the actual product. You’ll be able to translate the interpreted product into a physical representation faster and with greater production agility.

Build Your Prototype

After turning data into a perfectly built and modified CAD drawing, the next step is to produce a physical object. Here you’ll resume the traditional steps of forward engineering with the production of a prototype. Those initial steps of reverse engineering may have provided you with a high-quality CAD drawing but added a time crunch to your time-line. If that’s the case, rapid prototyping is the perfect match for production.

There are many rapid prototyping options at your disposal, so choosing the one that’s best for your project will be determined by an in-depth analysis of the final CAD drawing and specs. 3D printing may be the best option for a reverse-engineered product, as you can accurately and quickly compare a produced prototype to the original design. This allows you to make finely tuned adjustments inside of your CAD design should the prototype need them.

Develop Your Reverse Engineering Process Based on Project Requirements

These steps will serve as a concise guide for establishing consistent reverse engineering protocols within your manufacturing processes. Given the broad spectrum of reverse engineering project types, as well as the unpredictability of results some adjustments will be necessary to match your specific manufacturing needs and goals. With the unexpected being an expected condition of reverse engineering, it’s advantageous to use external resources with experience in these processes. 

An engineering and manufacturing consultant can introduce the specific controls and tasks you need to accurately reverse engineer the parts and products specific to your production scenarios. They will introduce proven methodologies into an environment that promotes collaboration, communication, and accountability. As a result, your reverse engineering task runbook will be perfectly aligned to your manufacturing goals and drive improvements in all areas of your business.

The experienced engineers at Pacific Research Laboratories will guide you through reverse engineering best practices and will design a set of accountable processes that represent your goals. Our team will develop a communications strategy that keeps your project teams in coherence with each other in achieving project goals. To learn more about our services, please visit our contact page or call (206) 408-7603.