Benefits of Using Scanning Technology in Forensic Engineering Investigations

During an accident/incident investigation, what is the benefit of using 3D laser scanning technology in litigation cases in addition to traditional methods of documentation?  The answer is speed, accuracy and the ability to return to the data days or even years after the original evidence has been destroyed and/or modified.

What is laser scanning technology?  A laser scanner uses light to define the shape of an object by collecting data points in an x, y and z coordinate system.  This highly accurate device enables CED engineers to precisely document the shape of objects like vehicles and component parts and locations like an accident scene.  Measurements obtained using a laser scanner are accurate to within 2mm (1/16-in.)

CED can utilize the collected scanner data to reverse engineer both simple parts and complex components. The resultant scanned data can be used to 3D print an object for demonstrative purposes.

Examples of how CED uses the equipment to serve clients includes:

Vehicles – (cars/trucks/tractors/trailers/boats/components/etc.)

3D laser scanners can be used to memorialize an incident scene.  Once scanned, a 3D model can be generated to document distances, sight lines, and positions of evidence in the scene.  Additionally, a 3D scanner can replace the traditional method of collecting vehicle crush measurements which were time consuming with hand written coordinates or measurements generated using a tape measure and documented with photographs

However, with a portable scanning device an engineer can measure the entire vehicle with accuracy in a relatively short time.  Once the data points are collected and processed, an engineer can accurately determine crush data using the resultant 3D model.  The engineer can also use the 3D model to assist in the analysis of passenger kinematics, or in computer crash simulation or animation software.

Product Liability

To avoid liability, manufacturers should ensure products are properly designed and manufactured to avoid injury.  The scanner can be used to document product conditions after an incident, and then accurately measure and document a particular component for comparison to original engineering drawings.  The collected 3D data memorializes the product before any subsequent repairs and/or modifications occur.


Fire Scene Documentation

Fire scenes are perishable, and the urgency to begin repairs forever damages the ability of future scene analysis. A 3D scanner can be used to memorialize the extent of fire damage and assist in determining fire origin.


Featured Engineer

Geoffrey Wardman, P.E. Click here for the full profile 

Areas of Expertise:

Mechanical Engineering
Finite Element Analysis
Mechatronics Design
Failure Analysis
Machine Vibration
Fatigue Analysis
Pneumatic/ Hydrostatic Systems Evaluation
Applied Elasticity and Stress Analysis