GM is Using 3D Scanning to "Benchmark" Competitor's Cars

3d scanning

In a bid to close the competitive gap between GM and other manufacturers, GM has been 3d scanning competitor’s cars, trucks, and SUVs, putting their rival designs through their computers in an effort to learn as much as they can about “what makes a Mercedes feel like a Mercedes”, for example. Now, if that sort of “research and copy” 3d scanning sounds a bit cheat-y and un-American, don’t worry: GM is using red, white, and blue lights in its “line of sight” scanners!

In all seriousness, though, GM has been doing this kind of 3d scanning since 2002. This type of 3d scanning tools are used to turn 3d objects – such as their competitor’s cars and trucks – into math data. This isn’t used only for “benchmarking” or “reverse engineering” (two terms used by the GM rep. in the video, below), but also to turn designer’s clay models into CAD data quickly. Combined with the 3d printing technologies like the thermoplastic resin and sheet metal printing I covered at Ford back in July, this technology would allow GM designers and engineers to more quickly and easily upgrade their own products.

In a great report and “inside-look” at what automotive benchmarking looks like, Ars Technica spoke to GM’s Larry Pecar, who desbribed the process as follows …

The beginning of the teardown process is a friendly pass. “First, we want to scan as much as we can without disassembling the vehicle,” Pecar said. Next the exterior is scanned with a large blue-light scanner, and then red light scanning is used for details like the interior and seam tolerances. Finally, the position of components is recorded to help put all the pieces together again digitally as the teardown commences.

Things start getting unfriendly here. Each component of interest is scanned as the car is disassembled piece by piece. “You can look at a muffler and red-light scan it… it all goes back to the body position of the original model,” Pecar said. Some individual pieces, like the muffler or a headlamp, may get cut open and scanned internally to build engineering models from.

The end result is a complete set of reverse-engineered computer models of the vehicles brought into the Teardown. In some cases, those models can be even more accurate than the ones used to design the vehicles in the first place. After all, they show the vehicles as-built.

Models are shared with GM’s designers and engineers, who can use them to study the end product of competitors’ design processes and learn from their successes and failures. “You can take the math for another company’s design and lay it on top of your own,” Pecar said. This allows comparisons of everything from core engineering to “package execution” features—like how the competitor got more headroom or trunk space into a smaller vehicle.

… so, make of that what you will.

It’s important to realize, as you ponder whether or not actions like GM 3d scanning its competitor’s cars are legal or ethical or outright laughable (GM sued Chinese automakers over intellectual property disputes a few times in the last decade), that “benchmarking” is an industry-wide practice, with several automakers buying each other’s products both overtly and clandestinely in the hopes of figuring out what competitive advantages one might have over the other. That said, it’s pretty cool technology.

Head on over to the original article at Ars Technica for a more in-depth review of GM’s 3d scanning processes, more videos, and a few more photos that help illustrate GM’s reverse-engineering efforts further. Enjoy!


Source | Photos: Ars Technica.

Jo Borrás

I've been in the auto industry 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the IM network. You can also find me on Twitter, at my Volvo fansite, out on two wheels, or chasing my kids around Oak Park, IL.