Is Reverse Engineering Useful For CAD Design?
Subject experts are indispensable to many research and development organizations, because of the specialized and valuable services that they can provide.
What is an expert, and what makes an expert so valuable? An expert has extensive knowledge and experience on a subject matter, and can provide solutions for unique or difficult problems that an average professional cannot easily provide.
What sort of unique problems can an expert solve? Consider these three examples:
- A useful piece of software was written decades ago with a computer language that is obsolete. Only outdated processors running on obsolete operating systems can run the software. Because an organization’s profitability is tied to the software, it is necessary to preserve it. An expert studies the functionality of the software, and rewrites new code which duplicates all useful capabilities of the old software. Without having access to the code with which the original software was written, the expert has used reverse engineering to duplicate the functionality of the old software.
- A country is in danger of losing a war, because the enemy has war planes with cloaking capabilities which make the warplanes invisible to radar. One of these advanced warplanes crashes into enemy territory. Experts are asked to dismantle the war plane, and to discover how its cloaking capability could have been designed. After some investigative work, the experts succeed in duplicating similar cloaking technology on their own war planes. Although the two cloaking technologies are not identical, duplication of the cloaking functionality was accomplished. The experts accomplished their task by using reverse engineering.
- A criminal determines how copy protection could be implemented on music DVDs. The criminal writes software which removes the copyright, and therefore succeeds in stealing copyrighted music. The criminal performed thievery by using reverse engineering.
The first two examples illustrate the use of Reverse Engineering (RE) for “positive” reasons, and the last example illustrates the use of reverse engineering for a “negative” reason.
In this article, we ask the question: “Is Reverse Engineering (RE) useful for CAD design?”
To answer this question necessitates answering these other questions:
- In what areas of CAD design could RE be useful?
- What are the limitations on using RE for CAD work?
- Are there Pros and Cons when using RE for CAD work?
In What Areas Of CAD Design Would Reverse Engineering Be Useful?
RE for CAD work will not be the same type of RE which is focused on reproducing functionality of software or of a machine. This means that the focus of CAD-driven RE is not.
- To write software when the source code is unavailable, in order to duplicate functionality of the original software,
- To disassemble or figure out the inner workings of a machine (without access to its design methodology) in order to reproduce the functionality of the machine.
For CAD work, the main goal of RE is to measure geometric shapes of objects in order to model and fabricate them.
For example, one way to apply RE for CAD work is to measure the geometrical shape of an object with a laser scanner, and to create digital data for 3D modeling and fabrication. This type of RE is useful for preserving or archiving out-of-production parts, or defective parts which failed in service and should be diagnosed in order to fix them.
One example is the failure of a disk brake. The failure diagnosis requires accurate measurements of the geometry of the failed object, in order to determine the performance of materials used to manufacture the object, and failure mechanisms which caused the failure.
The availability of AM (Additive Manufacturing) or 3D printing for rapid prototyping improves the chance of successfully using CAD-driven RE to solve field problems which involve product failures. Measured data can be rapidly transmitted all over the globe for timely diagnosis and remedy.
Another example is the failure of a customized artificial joint or prosthesis. Accurate measurements of the geometry of the failed object provide essential data for modeling and recreating the object in order to fix the problem.
What Are The Limitations On Using Reverse Engineering In CAD Work?
There are no apparent limitations on using RE for CAD work.
RE for CAD work does not try to reproduce design methods or CAD software which was used to manufacture a part. Rather, RE for CAD work obtains geometrical measurements of manufactured parts in order to model and to fabricate them. If there are limitations, they will be due to the measurement system, and whether it produces accurate data.
Previously, CMMs (Coordinate Measuring Machines) which were used for geometrical measurements relied on contact technology. These have been replaced by more advanced non-contact CVMs (Computer Vision Machines) which provide very accurate measurements.
Several types of non-contact CVMs are in wide use by the medical, military, aeronautical and automotive industries.
Because CAD-driven RE uses advanced measurement systems, there are no significant limitations on using RE for CAD work.
Are There Pros And Cons When Using Re In CAD Work?
Using RE for CAD work provides many advantages. These include:
- Quick response time for measuring and fixing defective manufactured components.
- Ability to model and fabricate complex geometrically shaped objects whose designs are not available.
- Ability to duplicate functionality in competitive products without violating copyrights, stealing designs, or infringing on patent rights
Some of the advantages listed are tied to corresponding disadvantages.
- China has used RE to reproduce Western and Russian hardware which includes fighter aircraft, missiles, and automobiles, without violating patents.
- Organized crime can use, and has used RE to make counterfeit and unregulated products which undermine the profitability of bona fide industries.
- Military secrets do not last long, because competing nations and organizations use RE to duplicate the superior technology of the enemy, or to make the technology less effective.
Apart from CAD technology, the use of RE for reproducing software and smart products is a lucrative field for hackers and organized crime. Although CAD-based products are not as vulnerable to RE, many software-based smart products are quite vulnerable.