"Perspectives", a monthly column authored by
Todd Grimm for "Time-Compression Technologies."

This column was published in the
November/December 2004 issue. For more great articles,
visit the "Time-Compression Technologies'"
Web site at www.timecompress.com.



Reverse Engineering Is Criminal

There are three good reasons to rethink the term reverse engineering: implying unethical behavior, lacking meaning and conjuring up images of the past.

Reverse engineering (process) is so much more than reverse engineering (application).

Infringing on another's intellectual property is a criminal act. Taking the hard work, research and development of other organizations is reprehensible. Regrettably, these negative associations are often applied to the concept of reverse engineering. This offense needs to be-and can be-addressed.

Reverse engineering (RE) is a tool to capture a physical form and convert the information into a 3D, digital representation. For engineering and manufacturing departments, the data allows reproduction, documentation, inspection and re-engineering of products, assemblies and components. While some apply the tools to reverse engineering a design, this is just one of many possible applications.

Beyond design and manufacturing, reverse engineering is invaluable in art and architecture; it is employed for simulation and animation and is a cornerstone in mapping and GIS (geographic information system).

However, the breadth of reverse engineering applications creates confusion about the term. Reverse engineering also is a commonly used term to describe processes that do not generate 3D data. In fact, the most widespread use of reverse engineering is in software development and decompiling computer code. The term reverse engineering, broadly used, can be misleading. The term alludes to a myriad of processes, but it does not clearly define any of them.

Reverse engineering also conjures up the days when many found it faster to use manual inspection tools to redefine a design. A decade ago, the concept of reverse engineering elicited fascination and demonstrations created awe. However, the tedium of converting data into usable CAD geometry was too great a barrier for the vast majority of potential users. The tools and technology have progressed, and while there is plenty of room for improvement, the stigma of reverse engineering lingers in many engineering professionals' minds.

There are three good reasons to rethink the term reverse engineering: (1) it implies unethical behavior, (2) it lacks meaning, and (3) it conjures up inaccurate images from the past. While the problem is easy to define, the solution is not. The challenge lies in defining a new term.

Data Capture/Reverse Engineering

The definition of digital reality could be: Automated and semi-automated conversion of the as-exists state of physical forms into fully defined, three dimensional, digital models.

The issues relating to reverse engineering emerged when industry professionals gathered for the first meeting of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers' (SME) Data Capture/Reverse Engineering technical group. SME has recently organized its membership interests into technical communities. Within each technical community, there are technical groups. As new entities, each tech group defined a charter and a mission.

The first meeting of the Data Capture/Reverse Engineering technical group-part of the RTAM (Rapid Technologies and Additive Manufacturing) technical community-was held in July 2004. The participants were charged with defining the roles and goals of the technical group. However, within a matter of moments, the group discovered that the interests of the participants were varied and the definitions of reverse engineering diverse. The disparity was so great that it became impossible to chart a course and define the tech group's mission.

The discussion rapidly regressed to a few simple questions. What is RE? What technologies does it include? What are the applications? This group of experienced professionals, each with hands-on experience in RE, was unable to define the technology in the context of its many applications. It concluded that if the tech group could not come to a consensus, there is no possibility for a clear understanding in industry. Therefore, the tech group decided that reverse engineering needed to be renamed and redefined.

With agreement to do so, the conversation turned to resolving this dilemma. The question arose. "If it isn't RE, what is it?" The answer to this simple question is deceptively complex.

To date, the Data Capture/Reverse Engineering tech group has yet to come up with the answer. Although the industry has pondered the question for years, it has not fared any better in renaming the technology. Maybe the answer lies with you.

Get Involved
The Data Capture/Reverse Engineering tech group invites you to become a member and participant.
Contact Todd Grimm, chairman, at tgrimm@tagrimm.com for information or visit www.sme.org (Technical Communities links located in left menu bar) for details.

Possibilities and Proposals

Data capture, digital duplication and reverse modeling are a few of the proposed names to replace RE. While each of these terms eliminates the association with copying another's design, they fail to define the technology clearly while illustrating the breadth of applications.

Data capture and digital duplication could apply to a number of processes outside of the design and manufacturing realm. For example, data capture describes what sensors and monitoring devices do for statistical process control, and digital duplication could apply to the new breed of copy machines. Reverse modeling is better than the other two because it is unique, and it describes what the process does. However, the implied definition limits the scope of applications.

Perhaps the best name will arise from the nature of the process. Consider that the tools and processes of reverse engineering capture an as-exists state for physical objects. This is the polar opposite of virtual reality, which defines and presents representations of a world and of objects that have yet to take on physical form. Building from this dichotomy, perhaps digital reality is a viable option to replace reverse engineering.

The definition of digital reality could be: Automated and semiautomated conversion of the as-exists state of physical forms into fully defined, three-dimensional, digital models. For a little marketing flavor, perhaps digital reality could be condensed to DigEality or Digitality. The process or action could become digital realization, and the end product, the 3D digital definition, could be a DR or digital def.

Digital reality may not be the best answer, but it does address the breadth of applications while providing a unique and meaningful name.

A Call to Action The challenge is finding the right term for reverse engineering; one that is fitting for the technology and its deliverable, and descriptive in terms of the process and its applications. Some of the best and brightest minds have yet to find the perfect name. Perhaps you have the spark of creativity and originality that is needed. All agree that reverse engineering is a poor name for the technology. With your help, it may be possible to reach a consensus on a new name and new definition for the technologies that provide digital definitions of the physical world.


For more information contact Todd Grimm of T.A. Grimm & Associates, Inc. (Edgewood, KY) at (859) 331-5340 or via e-mail at tgrimm@tagrimm.com.

©2004 Communication Technologies, Inc., All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted from Time-Compression Technologies magazine. Contents cannot be reprinted without permission from the publisher.


Contact information:
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T. A. Grimm & Associates, Inc.
3028 Beth Court, Edgewood, Kentucky 41017
Phone: (859) 331-5340      Fax: (859) 514-9721
tgrimm@tagrimm.com      www.tagrimm.com


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