The traditional engineering process occurs in a linear fashion: a product is conceptualized, its concepts flow charted, sketched out, and then virtually modeled as a solid CAD model. But in the reverse engineering process, the traditional engineering process is reversed.

An as-built product is turned into a solid CAD model, surface model or polygon mesh model and conceptualized in terms of improvements or for fabrication purposes.

Example, if a vintage automobile contains parts that haven't been laser scanned, scanning the parts makes it possible to fabricate duplicates instead of relying on used parts. But in most cases, engineers use 3D laser scanning-also known as laser scanning and laser surveying-to develop an improved version of an existing product or operating system.

An example of how a reverse engineering service uses laser scanning to create improved products can be seen in the reengineering of industrial moulds. Laser scanning can eliminate product flaws by eliminating the slightest inaccuracies in moulds.

An example of how a reverse engineering service uses laser surveying to create an improved operating system can be seen in the reengineering of air duct systems.

A common problem with duct systems is air leaks between segments of duct, which results in increased electric bills as homeowners raise an air conditioner's output. Using laser surveying, engineers can remedy this problem by reengineering ductwork to eliminate minute gaps between duct segments.

When an engineering service uses laser surveying to create an original product, they use scanning generated models that offer a variety of design benefits: polygon mesh models, surface models and solid CAD models. Polygon mesh models are non-editable and generally used for conceptual purposes.

Surface models are more editable than polygon mesh models, but only at their surface, making them ideal for modeling artistic shapes and organic objects.

Solid CAD models are supremely editable and can incorporate design intent. In most cases, a reverse engineering service relies on solid CAD models to create improved products, although engineers may also refer to polygon mesh models and surface models when performing a complete overhaul of a product or system.

Analogue and GPS scanning methods can also be used for reverse engineering, but they have fallen out of favor for two reasons. First, they typically take longer to produce results than laser surveying, engineered stamped plans which compromises project deadlines and results in increased scanning costs when surveying is outsourced.

Second, laser surveying offers superior data accuracy compared to analogue and GPS methods. In addition to saving companies time by producing accurate results in as little as one surveying session, the accuracy of 3D laser scanning also saves companies money by eliminating rework that occurs when traditional scanning methods yield less than perfect results.