Ceramics 3D Printing Robots May Save Ancient Relics


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3D printing continues to assist in the preservation and restoration of historical relics, with industrial robotics and alternative materials offering even more potential. Chinese researcher Jia-zheng Zhu, of Nanjing Normal University, explores the topic further in ‘Application of 3D Printing Industrial Robot in Ceramic Relic Protection and Repair,’ along with alerting us to the sense of urgency in the matter of managing artifacts in China.

Zhu points out that while cultural relics have obvious historical and artistic value in China that must be preserved, they must also be duly protected from their physical environment. Fighting the elements is an ongoing issue in relation to ancient and older originals that we don’t want to see losing further integrity—but it is often a losing battle. And traditionally, repairing them also requires complex care by experts, employing intricate, time-consuming techniques.

3D scanning came along and almost magically erased issues in preservation, as pieces could be scanned and replicated—giving museums the option to lock away originals, almost like the concept of wearing paste jewelry while keeping the true valuables in a safe somewhere; in this case, however, there is no deception in making such copies as one, the public is generally fascinated in hearing about the technology—and two, replicas make a wide range of works more accessible to enthusiasts, curators, students, and research scientists.

Industrial robot 3D ceramic printing system and finished products.

Zhu states that both 3D scanning and 3D printing industrial robots have already been in wide use and offer enormous advantages because they can collect data for making replicas without damaging relics such as those made in ceramic, and in making repairs they can be extremely accurate. Currently, industrial robots are performing the following tasks for repairs at Nanjing Museum:

  • Generating robot motion sequences
  • Reverse modeling of broken pieces
  • Temperature control sintering of printing parts and post-processing
  • Controlling feed pressure tanks

Once replicas are made, surfaces can be colored, and they can be finished as required for total completion without any threat of further destruction or disintegration during the process.

“With its high efficiency, precision and non-destructive characteristics, it can play a huge role in the field of cultural relics restoration,” states Zhu regarding 3D printing.

3D scanning, modeling and printing.

For this application, those in charge of restoring relics are relying on the 3D printing benefits such as affordability and speed in production, the ability to customize as needed, along with ease in transferring data—for example, one museum curator may transfer 3D files of a replica to another curator (who may even be halfway across the world from them!) so they can print the same thing for study or another exhibit.

Example of reverse modeling

Repairs can also be made more easily, and with minimal to no waste as scans are performed, with reverse reconstruction helping to fix or rebuild pieces.

“The work of reverse modeling is mainly divided into two aspects, one is spatial position reconstruction. And the other is surface reconstruction, which is the appearance texture reconstruction. For the former, there are quite a few techniques that can be solved, and the latter, the appearance texture reconstruction, is also an important part of reverse modeling,” states Zhu.

There are still limitations in the uses of this technology and resulting processes. Accessibility is a major factor, despite the growing popularity of 3D technology virtually everywhere. 3D scanners and the required accompanying technology may still be hard to find—in reality—and once that obstacle is eliminated, there must then be someone available who knows how to use all the hardware, software, and materials—or immediate accessibility to education regarding scanning and printing. Along with finding experienced users, finished of the 3D printed models is another issue as there may be a need for multiple colors, and painting by an expert is required in many cases. Preservation is challenging but maintaining pieces is even more so as there are so many unknown variables.

“During the repair process, the risk of secondary damage caused by processes such as overturning and replenishing in the traditional process is avoided. At the same time, 3D printing industrial robots can adapt to the various needs of different materials and cultural relics, which can greatly improve the efficiency of traditional cultural relics restoration,” concludes Zhu. “In recent years, it has gradually popularized and better integrated 3D printing technology into cultural relics restoration programs. Therefore, 3D printing technology is very necessary in the field of cultural relics repair. This also requires the accumulation of experiments by many professionals, summing up experience and perfecting this technology.”

History is important to humans. We protect memories on the individual level whether still using more old-fashioned photo albums and scrapbooks or focusing on social media where our photographs and captions can be saved while taking up relatively little space—and also where images never become curled or yellowed on paper. But the history of the human race, as well as so much that has been contributed to art, science, engineering, and more along the way, is deeply treasured by those who realize what a privilege it is to be able to see (and at times, even hold) ancient remains and artifacts.

Back in the 80s when 3D printing was arriving on the scene in its most rudimentary form, chances are, no one was thinking about preservation of cultural relics; however, it has allowed for this process to evolve in many different forms. Originals are able to be kept safe while replicas are displayed in museums, or at exhibits—and in such a form where they can be handled for educational purposes in comparison to original pieces that must be kept away from any activities or environment allowing them to degrade further. Art and history enthusiasts also have more access to original works as they can take advantage of 3D scanning technology to print out and own/display their own precise replicas.

What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts! Join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com.

[Source / Images: ‘Application of 3D Printing Industrial Robot in Ceramic Relic Protection and Repair’]

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