A point cloud is a set of data points in some coordinate system.
In a three-dimensional coordinate system, these points are usually defined by X, Y, and Z coordinates, and often are intended to represent the external surface of an object.
Our point clouds are created by Nikon 3D Laser Scanners and these devices measure millions of points on the surface of an object which is output as a .XYZ file. Using the CMM laser scanner we can achieve an accuracy of +/- 1.9 microns with a resolution of 22 microns and our Portable laser scanner has an accuracy of +/- 54 microns with a resolution of 100 microns.
As the result of a 3D scanning process point clouds are used for many purposes, including to create 3D CAD models for manufactured parts, metrology/quality inspection, and a multitude of visualization, animation, rendering and mass customization applications.
While point clouds can be directly rendered and inspected, usually point clouds themselves are generally not directly usable in most 3D applications, and therefore are usually converted to polygon mesh or triangle mesh models, NURBS surface models, or CAD models through a process commonly referred to as surface reconstruction/reverse engineering.
One application in which point clouds are directly usable is industrial metrology or inspection using Industrial computed tomography. The point cloud of a manufactured part can be aligned to a CAD model (or even another point cloud), and compared to check for differences. These differences can be displayed as color maps that give a visual indicator of the deviation between the manufactured part and the CAD model. Geometric dimensions and tolerances GD&T can also be extracted directly from the point cloud.