When you hear about reverse engineering, you might think about China analyzing and imitating American-made products, or other sinister cases of military or commercial espionage. However, there are many straightforward and respectable uses for reverse engineering. Reverse engineering is commonly a process used to find problems and failures in machines and processes in manufacturing.
In the movies, reverse engineering is often presented as a dramatic and exciting project, expeditiously completed in hours. A group of “white coat” scientists can take any software code, machine, or vaccine, reverse engineer it; and boom, they have a working replica. Reverse engineering exists and it does work, but not quite like it’s presented in movies. The reverse engineering process is the most accurate way to recreate designs for items that went out of production decades ago, but might serve a purpose today. Reverse engineering gives manufacturers information about the design of some products they don’t already have. They can find out what kind of bolts, pressure control valves, metals, or gears are in something they wish to produce. To give you a better idea, here are some common uses for reverse engineering.
Reverse engineering is valuable for finding out why something failed. If an airplane fails, mechanics may need to take it apart or examine designs to find out why. Examining a machine by using reverse engineering can lead you to damaged parts or design flaws that were previously unnoticed. Taking the whole and reducing it into component parts is like following a map to the culprit.
Legacy Parts Replacement
The most common use for reverse engineering is legacy parts replacement, which involves examining and reproducing specific parts of larger machines to keep them working. If a company has an old, large conveyor system that keeps breaking down and the manufacturer is out of business, the company could do one of two things. One, invest in a new conveyor system and shut down production for weeks during installation. Or, they could reverse engineer the process and replace the part or parts that repeatedly break down, saving a ton of money and time.
Parts improvement is ideal for reverse engineering. A component part may need altering after performing failure analysis, and it might be in line for an upgrade. If no replacement parts are available, the part could be reverse engineered, and a copy can be made and improved upon from the original design. Through this process, two components could be merged into one, saving money and maintenance time in the long run.
Diagnostics and Problem Solving
Like failure analysis, diagnostics and problem-solving of machines and processes are the purvey of reverse engineering. Manufacturing processes combine many machines and functions to produce parts. When part of the system breaks down, it can be hard to find the culprit. Walking backward from the end product to the beginning of the process will highlight the weak points and allow for change.
Reverse engineering is applicable in the fields of mechanical engineering, electronic engineering, software engineering, chemical engineering, and even systems biology — using computational and mathematical analysis and modeling of complex biological systems, such as the Human Genome Project.
Reverse engineering can be used to prevent obsolescence when the original equipment manufacturer provides a product that delivers only a short lifespan. Reverse engineering can provide a method of modification or replacement.
Another aspect of reverse engineering is repurposing, which is when obsolete products are discovered for use in an entirely different manner.
Reverse engineering can also be used to determine the life expectancy of a product, or the security or safety of a product. Potential commercial customers of a product involved in manufacturing may want to analyze a product to determine whether it will have a short life expectancy, whether it might present a security risk to the company, or whether it might involve a safety risk to employees.
Some companies breakdown consumer products into components, so that consumer customers can make decisions about whether to purchase original manufacturer’s accessories or third-party accessories. Apple is common subject of product breakdowns because the company is frequently accused of overpricing for products or designing planned obsolescence into its products. Breakdown companies often write articles or publish YouTube videos that present their findings. These companies make money with ad revenue associated with their articles or YouTube videos, and their readers or viewers benefit by making informed decisions regarding Apple or third-party products.
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