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Vatican’s Swiss Guard Trades In Metal Helmets for 3D Printed Ones

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[Image: Franco Origlia/Getty Images]

The Swiss Guard has been in existence for centuries, serving as the Vatican’s private army. They have served over 40 popes and are steeped in tradition, including the red, blue and yellow Gala Uniform they wear – the colors of the Medici family. The uniform includes a helmet stamped with the crest of Pope Julius II, known as the “mercenary pope,” who founded the small army in 1506. Made from sheet steel, the helmet bears a feathered crest for formal occasions.

However, some of the guards had complained of burns from the steel helmets heating up in the sun. So it was time for a change, and the Swiss Guard recently announced that it would be replacing the metal helmets with plastic ones, 3D printed from an impact-resistant, weather-resistant PVC plastic. The material will keep the guards’ heads cool on sunny days, not only because of the lighter, less heat-attractive material but because ventilation channels have been integrated inside the helmets’ shells. Swiss Guard spokesman Sgt. Urs Breitenmoser noted that the ceremonial helmets, which serve no defensive purpose, are intended to be worn for papal masses and state visits.

Christoph Graf, commander of the Swiss Guards, during the presentation of the new helmet. [Image: Independent Photo Agency]

The helmets were designed using a 3D scan of the original 16th century design, then 3D printed in one piece. Each helmet costs about €880, half the price of the original metal versions. Production time is greatly shortened, too – it took about 100 hours to make the traditional forged version of a helmet, while the 3D printed versions take only about 14 hours.

The manufacture of the 3D printed helmets was initiated by construction engineer Peter Portmann. The first 40 of them were sponsored by private donors, while another 60 will be produced using donations from the public.

The Swiss Guard has been considering more modern touches to its uniforms, such as more breathable and waterproof fabric for clothing.

“We have to keep up with the times,” said Guards Commander Christoph Graf. “(But) we would not make a halberd out of plastic.”

Commander of the Swiss Guard Christoph Graf (R) and the originator of the project Peter Portmann present the prototype of the new PVC 3D printed helmet for the Vatican’s elite Swiss Guard prior to attend the annual new papal Swiss guards swearing-in ceremony in Vatican City, on May 6, 2018. [Image: AFP Photo / Filippo Monteforte]

The changes to the uniform reflect larger changes that have been implemented in the Swiss Guard lately. The Guard has been given increased tasks in the internal and field services, as well as increased safety requirements. A 24/7 operations center has been implemented, and cooperation has been increased with the gendarmie, the Vatican Police Corps. The new requirements are related to changes under Pope Francis, changes that also include a stronger participation of the Swiss in foreign travel.

The new 3D printed helmet was introduced at a press conference Sunday, May 6 [Image: Swiss Guard via Facebook]

New recruits to the Swiss Guard must be Swiss, under 30 and unmarried. The force hopes to increase itself from 110 to 135 members in the near future. The Swiss Guard is responsible not only for the personal protection of the Pope, but also ceremonial and honorary services in the Vatican. It’s the oldest standing army in the world, as well as the smallest.

This is not the first time 3D printing has been introduced to the Vatican; this past Christmas, the Pope received a gift of a nanoscale 3D printed nativity scene from the government of Lithuania. Pope Francis has made clear his appreciation for modern technology, and formally blessed a series of 3D printed prosthetics and a 3D printer a couple of years ago. He’s also been 3D printed himself. It’s little surprise, then, that this papacy should be the first to use technology to upgrade a uniform that has been in use for hundreds of years.

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below. 

[Sources: AP, The Telegraph, Die Presse, The Local]

 

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