It’s been well established at this point that 3D printing is making a significant impact on industry around the world, whether you delve into aerospace, medicine, or even art, fashion, and design—and far, far more. But the contributions 3D printing is making to science are enormous—with a major bonus being offered in how it allows researchers to share artifacts with each other, as well as the public.

At the Virtual Curation Laboratory, part of Virginia Commonwealth University, 3D printers from Ultimaker play a major role in their work today, as they continue to create a digital catalog that includes many American Indian artifacts and other historic relics. Many different research activities center around this catalog, and the scientists there have clued in on the benefits of being able to trade digital files and 3D print pieces for further study.

“Virtual artifact curation enables researchers to access digital data files – permitting full 3D observation and manipulation (and accurate measurement), without needing to travel to a specific repository,” states Ultimaker in a recent blog.

“Furthermore, these files can be turned into models, using a desktop 3D printer. By 3D printing a replica of an artifact, researchers and students can freely handle and examine, which provides a powerful, more meaningful connection to the past. It’s a welcome break from the traditional ‘look, don’t touch’ ethos of museums.”

The Virtual Curation Laboratory was created in 2011 by Dr. Bernard K. Means, with funds that were made available due to their participation in a US Department of Defense (DoD) Legacy Resource Management project. At that time, they were experimenting with the NextEngine Desktop 3D scanner for creating digital models of archaeological finds from DoD-owned land. Today, the lab receives funding from grants that are both internal and external, along with other 3D printing projects they take on for museums.

The Ultimaker 3D printer allows the lab to use many different materials, and like many other users around the world, they enjoy its reliability as a machine. In creating 3D printed replicas, the VCL team is able to use them in classrooms and lectures, in student projects, and for support in research. They have also found the 3D printed replicas helpful for public relations projects as well as for helping the visually impaired, giving them a tactile object for better understanding. The objects can be seen and touched, changing the dynamic for those visiting museums.

Dr. Means and his team have discovered that with 3D printing, they are able to extend their reach—trading digital files online is as easy as hitting the send button, whether another researcher is in the US or Europe, or anywhere else. They enjoy sharing media, as well as being able to explore pieces in more detail without worrying about damaging them.

In creating replicas, they use the following process:

  • 3D scanning with the NextEngine desktop 3D scanner (one hour)
  • Editing the scan with ScanStudio, and also MeshMixer or Meshlab, if necessary (around two hours)
  • 3D printing in PLA, then painting with acrylics (around four hours)
  • Organized storage, allowing them to find pieces easily for education, sharing with other researchers, and public outreach

“I am also interested in making archaeology, history, and paleontology more accessible through 3D printing to audiences who have limited access to experiencing them, such as the visually impaired or individuals confined to home or care facilities,” says Dr. Means.

His team is able to make 3D scans wherever they are, and sometimes they are able to take entire collections on loan and scan them back at their lab. Dr. Means hopes to see this trend develop further within universities and other research facilities, along with ‘fostering a more cooperative network around the world’ where peers can help contribute and complement one another’s efforts. Discuss in the Museums forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source / Images: Ultimaker]

 

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