3D imaging is a technique to create the illusion of depth in an image. Moreover, it manipulates the 2D data into a three-dimensional format. The recent technological advances and specialized inspection techniques have boosted the growth of the 3D imaging market. The applications of 3D imaging are limitless and have become indivisible in the healthcare sector and quality control processes. Owing to its wide range of application, the popularity of the 3D imaging has increased in the last few years. According to a research firm, Allied Market Research, the 3D imaging market was valued at $4.6 billion in 2015 and is expected to reach $21.3 billion by the end of 2022, registering a colossal CAGR of 24.7% in the period 2015–2022. To understand the applications, it is critical to understand the commonly-known types of 3D imaging.
Types of 3D imaging
- 3D Laser Imaging: It is also known as 3D laser scanning and it is a process of collecting data with the help of laser beams, which are exposed to the surface of an object. After the capturing the required data, a software develops a 3D rendering.
- 3D X-Ray Imaging: This process is just capturing 2D x-rays from different angles that can be later used to reconstruct to create 3D images. These 2D x-ray images are viewed and analyzed separately to focus on different areas of the image.
- 3D Structured Light: It is a process of using focused colored and white light, and then pick it up by a specialized camera and fed into a program to capture external features of an object to turn into a polygon-based surface.
The application of 3D imaging
There are countless applications of 3D imaging, regardless of the type of industry. The basic purpose of the 3D image is to replicate the object for quality control processes. Thus, from healthcare to engineering and from aerospace to automobile, every industry has a touch of 3D imaging. However, the most common applications are reverse engineering, failure analysis, dimensional analysis, wall thickness analysis, and to identify the internal defects in an automobile parts such as cracks or voids.
The most recent application is 3D printing. 3D printing is one of the quickly-going-mainstream technologies, which enables rapid prototyping and manufacturing. Even though the scientists have not even scratched a surface of 3D printing applications, 3D imaging will surely play a significant part in expanding the applications of 3D printing. The 3D printers have an inbuilt system to melt and mold metal using a laser to create metallic parts. The most significant application is 3D printed organs and prosthetics. The research is at a nascent stage but is expected to grow exponentially in the next two years. The major challenge is to develop a sustainable business model that can sell large volumes of the same product. The ongoing research is regarding whether 3D printing used to print physical models from 3D data to plan for critical or general surgeries. However, the primary challenge is speed. It may take hours or even days to print actual 3D medical imaging data. Moreover, if the medical imaging data is not easily available, extra time will need to create the image. However, with the technological advancements, the 3D imaging and printing are bound to offer enormous application in the medical sector. However, currently, there are some exciting research developments in the medical sector using 3D imaging.
3D imaging in Alzheimer’s research
Scientists in the U.K. have successfully developed a powerful imaging tool to precisely reproduce visuals of the brain and investigate mechanisms that show the symptoms of Alzheimer's. A recent study shows that a major obstacle to defeating Alzheimer’s is the lack of knowledge and inability to understand why the disease starts in the first place. According to a survey, roughly 40% of Americans over the age of 85 have Alzheimer’s, which begins almost 20 years prior to the significant symptoms. However, scientists are one step closer to understand how the disease starts with the help of 3D imaging. A super-resolution ‘nanoscope’ developed by the researchers of Purdue University have created a 3D view of brain molecules with 10 times in-depth detailing, which would reveal how the disease progresses and how can doctors start treatments. This has helped scientists to understand the structure of plaques that usually form in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients. Moreover, it helps to pinpoint the characteristics that may lead to Alzheimer’s.
While commenting on the advantages of the new 3D imaging tool, Gary Landreth, the professor of anatomy and cell biology at the Indiana University School of Medicine’s Stark Neurosciences Research Institute stated, “The tool offers us an opportunity to understand the biological cause of the Alzheimer’s disease and determine the if we can stop the harmful formation of structure in the brain.” The limited resolution of conventional light and natural thickness of brain tissues have held back scientists from clearly observing the 3D morphology of amyloid plaques and their contribution to the development of Alzheimer’s diseases. However, now researchers can closely monitor the factors that lead to severe memory loss.
Recently, Mintek, the autonomous research firm and Unisa’s College of Science, Engineering, and Technology decided a joint acquisition for a 3D imaging facility. Unlike any other available technology, 3D x-ray imaging of rocks, minerals, and advanced materials can allow the ability to understand what those materials are made of, without breaking down the sample. This new machine is similar to a CT scan of the human body and can be used to observe different materials. Most importantly, this acquisition is beneficial to Unisa as it will be crucial to their research into several materials such as ferrous and non-ferrous metals and new materials based on the insights from the 3D imaging. The instrument was launched at Unisa’s Science Campus in Florida and regarded as the most important tool to understand metals on a molecular level.
Written by Srushti Helwande, Digital Marketing Executive at Allied Market Research