This fully automated ultra-precise 3D scanner needs no targets to capture mechanical parts, jewelry, dental items, and museum exhibits with up to 10 microns accuracy.

Hey, no one taught you how to use a microwave, right? You know why? Because it’s that simple. Once you’ve seen someone else do it, the die is cast and there’s no turning back: for the rest of your life, you’re good to get it done right, probably even with your eyes shut. You just open the door, stick in your plate or lunchbox with a proper ratio of carbs to fats, close the door, push a button or three (or you turn the old-school knob?) and off you go, traipsing towards the cooler (assuming you’re in the office and it’s lunchtime), getting a glass of water, enjoying the view from the window and/or a chat with a colleague if a voluble character is around. Just remember to return for your lunch when you hear the bell ding. And of course, don’t leave a metal fork or a raw egg inside a working microwave unless you want that small talk to take a really fun turn. But who am I preaching to when everyone around is so microwave savvy?

So what if a 3D scanner, a super high tech piece of hardware worth the price of 500 microwaves and seemingly 500 times as sophisticated required next to no training at all to use? Yes, that’s about Artec Micro, a high resolution desktop 3D scanner named… not after a microwave but bearing some resemblance as far as the ease of use goes.

Powered by Artec Studio 15 software, the Artec Micro scanner does work like a microwave, only for 3D scanning objects, rather than heating up lunch. You mount an object you want to scan on Micro’s rotating platform, fix it with a clamp, click the Scan button on your computer, and Micro digitizes surface after surface as you heat your lunch or go about your other business whatever it might be. Done with side 1? Turn over the object and let Micro capture what wasn’t captured in the first scanning session.

That’s where the no-training-needed part ends because now you’ve got two sets of scans on your computer screen, and these need to be merged into one, with all the noise cleaned up along the way. The good news is that by this point you have already received the necessary training from the company you bought the scanner from. That’s the business model of Artec 3D, the manufacturer headquartered in Luxembourg where it actually assembles its hardware: Artec sells its products through a worldwide chain of distributors, and those coach users in scanners and software in their respective language.

The path from raw scans to a 3D print ready and CAD-friendly model is the same as with other Artec 3D scanners: ridding of redundant frames, aligning master scans, and fusing them into one piece. Here you go, the 3D model of the object you scanned is ready for handling in 3D printing, reverse engineering, or CAD software.

But before we move on to that stage, let’s see what kind of objects are Micro-scannable, and that actually relates to the name, Micro, which as we should know by now wasn’t given to the scanner because it bears on a microwave in certain ways. Micro implies the object size the scanner was designed to capture, and that’s 90 × 60 × 60 mm max. If lunch is the theme of this Artec Micro review, let’s say this scanner can scan objects up to the size of an average potato. But given that the Artec Micro price is listed at US $29,300 (EU€27,900/RU€33,480) on the manufacturer’s website and that roughly equals the cost of a full-size sedan, you can tell this scanner isn’t there just to scan average potatoes. It’s a fully-fledged metrology-grade tool for creating exact copies of objects ranging from small mechanical parts to jewelry, dental items, museum exhibits – you name it. Micro can scan those with astounding precision and without targets (which are not uncommon in the 3D scanning world, serving to ensure sublime geometry capture).

Even if you have 20/20 vision, you can’t see everything that Micro can see because its vision is 4 times sharper than yours! Micro’s accuracy reaches 0.01 mm and resolution 0.029 mm. Compare it with the specs of the next-best gimlet-eyed Artec scanner, Space Spider: 0.05 mm and 0.1 mm respectively, and you’ll see what a leap forward this newest addition to Artec’s product line is. To visualize it in a lunch-themed way and give you an idea of how impressive it is, Micro can see a tenth the size of a single grain of table salt.

Artec Micro specs

  • 3D accuracy: up to 10 microns (0.01 mm)
  • 3D resolution: up to 0.029 mm
  • Texture resolution: 6.4 MP
  • Object size: 90 × 60 × 60 mm
  • 3D light source: blue LED
  • 3D mesh output formats: OBJ, PLY, WRL, STL, AOP, ASC, Disney PTX (PTEX), E57, XYZRGB
  • CAD formats: STEP, IGES, X_T

[IF THE REVIEW TURNS OUT TO BE TOO LONG, THIS PARAGRAPH CAN BE TAKEN OUT.] Now, how does Micro actually scan? The core of 3D scanning technology is a projector and a camera. Micro’s LED projector emits rays of blue light structured in a way that forms a grid. As this grid-shaped ray of light hits the surface of the object, the shape of the grid changes, and the scanner’s camera captures this change in a snapshot. Once this part of the surface has been captured, the scanner turns the object (or rather, turns the platform the object rests on) and adjusts the tilt of the platform if necessary. That’s in order to send out the next beam of light and take a snapshot of another part of the surface. You don’t need to worry about whether everything has been captured or not. That’s something Micro takes care of. Its software analyzes the surface of the object and calculates the best trajectory for the projector and camera to follow in order to capture the surface in its entirety.

So now we know how Micro scans objects. But what can it actually be used for? First off, quality control at manufacturing facilities. You can scan all sorts of items and compare their 3D models against each other or against CAD models to detect deviations between the surfaces. Second, use Micro scans in reverse engineering and industrial design projects for retrofitting existing machines or mechanisms where precision is the cornerstone. If a small mechanical part breaks and you want to make a new one but you don’t have the blueprint at hand, you can create its 3D model with Micro and then mill or 3D print a new, identical part. You can also change the shape of that part and see if its modified version improves the performance of the machine.

Micro would also come in handy for dentistry practices, where 3D scans can be used to customize a denture or any other item of that sort in industry-specific software.

What if a piece of jewelry needs to be redesigned or repaired? Basically, the workflow is the same: scan, modify, cast. And if you’re the owner of an online jewelry store, it’s high time to start creating a 3D gallery so your customers could view the items from all angles.

Viewing items from all angles is also relevant for museums. An ancient earring or a coin is normally not so convenient to look at on museum grounds. Such items are placed inside glass counters and you often have to bend over them in order to see those artifacts. Mind that there might be a few fellow-visitors around waiting for you to be done peering. If the museum had its collection 3D digitized and put up online, you could take as long as you need to view all exhibits of interest from all angles without actually going to the museum.

How does Micro fare against competitors? Let’s take a look at a couple of examples from different price segments. A popular and affordable desktop solution would be EinScan SE or SP. However, with these devices, you can’t scan anything smaller than 30 × 30 × 30 mm. Note that the Chinese manufacturer, Shining3D, states that the single shot accuracy of the SE scanner is ≤0.1 mm and ≤0.05 mm for the SP model. Technically, a nanometer falls within these ranges but you shouldn’t expect EinScan to be that accurate, of course. The Artec Micro 3D scanner price is 10 times that of the EinScan SP, and that’s for a reason. The quality of data you’d get from the SP scanner would be comparable to that of Artec’s Space Spider but not Micro. Keep in mind that 3D scan data will need to be processed after scanning, and this path has proven to be much trickier with Shining3D than it is with Artec.

There is a segment of specialized 3D scanning solutions, for example, in the dental market. The Danish company 3Shape makes E-series 3D scanners, whose design and mode of operation are quite similar to those of Micro. 3Shape’s most precise scanner to date, E4, boasts a 4-micron (0.004 mm) accuracy, which is really great for scanning dies and impressions. However, E4 is not an all-around solution because it’s integrated with very specific dental software which customers from other fields might find awkward to use. Also, its color reproduction quality leaves much to be desired, whereas Micro offers advanced texture capture at 6.4 MP and 24 bpp color depth.

With all benefits considered, Micro appears to be a fairly priced asset. Just like a good old microwave would do its job with any dish you put inside it, the ultra-precise Micro scanner will automatically 3D digitize just about any object that fits in.