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Technology

What Is Structured Light Scanning?

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In recent decades, one of the biggest advances in manufacturing technology has been the development and rise of 3D scanning techniques. Finding ways to accurately map complex 3D objects was long a holy grail for many scientists and engineers, but seemed impossible before the development of sophisticated camera technology and computer processing hardware.

Now, even DIY hobbyists can create amateur 3D scanning systems using basic consumer hardware like the Xbox Kinect, while the micro-manufacturing and medical sectors have been transformed by professional-grade setups. 

Particularly in dentistry, structured light scanning is now an invaluable tool for manufacturing dental implants and other orthodontic devices, and lets medical professionals scan the precise dimensions of any structure in their patients’ mouths.

The History of Structured Light Scanning

The building blocks for structured light scanning have been around for millennia, as Egyptian and Babylonian mathematicians began using triangulation to calculate physical dimensions more than 5,000 years ago. But it wasn't until the late 19th century that the development of the first advanced cameras laid the foundation for modern structured light scanning.

it wasn't until the late 19th century that the development of the first advanced cameras laid the foundation for modern structured light scanning.

The crucial realization for scientists was that cameras represent more than simple images. Instead, they are actually collecting and displaying visual data itself. While researchers experimented with the possibilities afforded by new camera technology, they had to wait until the silicon revolution overtook the computer industry in the 1970s to begin developing true 3D scanning techniques.

Today, structured light scanning is an incredibly versatile tool for research and manufacturing

The earliest structured light scanners were crude, expensive and difficult to use. As such, they stayed relegated to industrial applications. However, as camera and computer technology rapidly improved, techniques iterated quickly and began yielding modern structured scanning equipment by the late 90s.

Today, structured light scanning is an incredibly versatile tool for research and manufacturing, and has seen use in everything from the development of NASA spacecraft to detailed analysis of antique artifacts — and, of course, dentistry.

How Structured Light Scanning Works

The basic function of a structured light scanner is simple: you project a structured light pattern onto an object, then film it with at least one camera (usually two cameras)  to capture the ways in which the object deforms the light pattern. By triangulating multiple images of the scan, you can calculate the dimensions of the object in all its complexity.

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Most scanners use a pattern of alternating stripes, similar to the shadows cast by sunlight shining through Venetian blinds. With finely calibrated stripes and accurate cameras, it’s possible to measure the dimensions of very small details — even the minute variations in the surface of a tooth or oral socket.

By processing the resulting data in scanning software, you’re able to create a digitized 3D image of the scanned object, which can be used to design dental prosthesis or accurately map the dimensions of the scanned target location.

Structured light scanning is often used as an alternative to 3D laser scanning, due to the tendency for lasers to get easily disrupted by reflective surfaces, any form of transparency and even the complex interference patterns in laser light itself.

blue light projected from sophisticated LEDs has become the new standard

In earlier days, white light was preferred for structured light scanning, but today blue light projected from sophisticated LEDs has become the new standard, thanks to its increased accuracy and higher resistance to disruptive forces like reflections, or even the slight transparency of living flesh.

Medit provides a variety of structured light systems that can help your practice manufacture precise and accurate dental devices. Contact us today to learn how structured light scanning can help improve patient outcomes in your office.

 

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