Smithsonian museums latest to use 3D printing

History is being lost all of the time, artifacts slowly turning to dust, some have already been studied, others have either never been studied due to being locked away in a museum’s vault somewhere or because they are simply too delicate to examine in detail. Opportunities to understand history better and for more people to become involved are undoubtedly being missed.

3D scan and print services though are starting to improve access to artifacts and helping to preserve history. Without 3D printing service technologies the options for those, such as museums and universities, who have delicate artifacts are limited to either studying items as little as possible and then very carefully or creating molds to make copies: the very process of creating molds can damage artifacts and accuracy is variable.

With 3D printing services it is possible to create a very accurate copy of an artifact without having to touch it. 3D scanning is done with either cameras or lasers that map the contour of an item. 3D scanning has even been used to scan an ancient Egyptian mummy inside its wrappings so that a 3D print of the body inside could be made.

Once you have the scan of a item you can use a 3D printing service to create as many copies as required as well as studying the 3D File on a computer: allowing the study of minute details that may not even be visible to the naked eye.

Once items are printed they can either be put on display where they can be interactive if needed or they can be used for study, education or sent out to other institutions.

The Smithsonian museum is the latest museum to turn to 3D printing services, they own over 137 million, meaning scanning every item may take some time. Only 2{ed34752d3d9237811f2899a265685e36705e4e86722207f201c96dd1cfc4a167} of items are on display though: partly due to space and partly to do with many items being delicate or photosensitive.

The Smithsonian have worked with a company called Redeye to 3D scan and 3D print many pieces from their collection: these high quality replicas are already being   sought after by many museums keen to be able to either study or display them.

The very first piece to be scanned is recognizable around the United States certainly and much of the world, it is a famous statue of Thomas Jefferson and the landmark scanning and printing project created the world’s largest museum quality 3D printed replica to date. The original statue made in stone was far too valuable and delicate to move but the replica is made using a hard resin that is lighter and tougher: by treating it though it now has the look of a bronze statue. The statue is now likely to go on a tour in the United States but as the Smithsonian still have the digital files they can create more replicas on demand and send them wherever in the world they are wanted. While many may feel that seeing a replica isn’t the same as the real thing, for studying closely replicas of artifacts are priceless and are very useful in education as well from kindergarten level up to PHD level.

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