Digitize Designs engineer Michael Erickson. Photo by Jay King.
Problem: Supply chain disruptions make it hard for your company to acquire replacement parts for a critical piece of machinery. What to do?
Enter Greenville-based Digitize Designs, a company founded in 2016 that sells 3D scanners and offers 3D scanning solutions for a variety of applications.
Notably, using the technology to reverse engineer critical parts is becoming increasingly commonplace as companies search for innovative ways to solve supply chain challenges, according to founder Bo Helmrich.
Digitize Designs recently made detailed scans of a plaster cast of an orangutan’s hand for the Greenville Zoo, used for educational programs.
With the speed and precision of current commercial 3D scanners, which range in cost from about $20,000 to as much as $200,000, companies and the engineers they employ have a range of capabilities and applications that could scarcely have been imagined in decades past, Helmrich says.
“[3D scanning technology] is completely changing how engineers work,” he says. “There are always new applications.”
As the technology improves and as the world of virtual reality becomes more pervasive and, in a word, realistic, Helmrich anticipates 3D scanners will eventually become a commonplace household item.
Digitize Designs is housed in the NEXT Manufacturing building on Birnie Street, and the company routinely provides scanning services for engineering projects, anthropology departments and prosthetics developers, to name just a few applications. Helmrich says he can easily see where the technology will soon revolutionize online shopping — from measuring a room to find the right furniture, to precisely measuring a person’s foot for perfect-fit shoes.
“Personally, I think everybody will have a 3D scanner themselves for all sorts of uses,” he says. “People are really creative and come up with new ways to do things.”
New uses for the technology, in many cases prompted by pandemic lockdowns, underscore the essential truth of the maxim that necessity is the mother of invention. For example, at the height of the pandemic, Helmrich and his team assisted the anatomy department at Louisiana State University in conducting highly detailed scans of a cadaver dissection. Those scans enabled the school to develop online anatomy lessons during the period when in-person classes were not possible.
A scanner darkly
3D scans of dead bodies can be used to assist anatomy programs at colleges and universities, rather than dissecting the bodies in person.
In another novel application, the company made detailed scans of a plaster cast of an orangutan’s hand for the Greenville Zoo. Those scans were then used to produce plastic replicas the zoo uses in its educational programs.
Helmrich says such uses might soon become routine for museums and historical sites where artifacts might be too fragile for display. In fact, the technology is so useful and adaptable that it’s only limited by the imagination of the people using it.
“I think the technology’s cool, so it’s easy for me to nerd out on it,” Helmrich says. “This world does move quickly.”
Digitize Designs fast facts
- Founded in 2016, the company has eight employees and sells 3D scanners and scanning services.
- Among the company’s projects were providing detailed scans of the Civil War submarine H.L. Hunley and bones for the anthropology department at the University of South Carolina.
- The company sells 3D scanners from a variety of manufacturers and ranging in price from $20,000 to as much as $200,000.