3D printing at SmartBar

by Ely Wallis
Publish date
16 May 2013
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The theme of the most recent SmartBar at Melbourne Museum was 'retrofuturism'. A perfect theme to base a demonstration of technology that's definitely more future than retro – 3D printing.

During the evening we had two printers set up: the Museum's recently-purchased MakerBot Replicator2 and a printer brought along by our colleagues Bernard Meade and Ben Kreunen (from The University of Melbourne). Bernard and Ben also brought along a 3D scanner, and spent the evening scanning specimens from our Marine Invertebrates collection.

A crowd of people view 3D printers 3D printers and scanner demonstration with an enthusiastic and interested crowd at SmartBar, Melbourne Museum, April 2013.
Image: Ben Kreunen
Source: The University of Melbourne

We had an incredibly positive response with people very interested to see the new technology demonstrated. One reaction was surprise that the Museum is experimenting in this emerging field. “What are you going to use it for?” was a common question. The answer ranges from science (especially palaeontological) research, to rapid prototyping of exhibition components, to modelling. And the list will continue to grow. Other museums are also experimenting, and 3D printing maker spaces have been popping up at museum technology conferences for a couple of years now.

We also used the deadline of SmartBar to test out possible workflows, as we have also recently purchased a 3D scanner. With the scanner located in our Media Production department, our best expertise at handling 3D files located in our Design team, and the printer located in our Digital and Emerging Technology department, we wanted to see how well a new cross-department workflow might go.

3D printer in operation The MakerBot Replicator2 in action, printing an ammonite.
Image: Ely Wallis
Source: Museum Victoria

Our Sciences department supplied some collection specimens to scan, which we did more and less successfully. The best was an ammonite, and our scan of a trilobite was okay, though we want to try printing it end on to get better relief detail.

Less successful was a biscuit star which looked to have enough surface detail to scan well, but which ended up looking like a lump of dough. The lessons learned were that we should upgrade our scanning software, and that we need a lot more practice in how to fill in ends and merge multiple scans to get a complex 3D shape with no holes.

The least successful, but amusing, experiment was an attempt to scan quartz crystals. Lovely shapes but the lasers passed straight through or bounced off the clear crystals, providing a very pretty laser light show but no scan. Next time we’ll try powdering them to get a better matt surface.

White ammonite specimen next to black plastic one Real ammonite specimen from Museum Victoria’s palaeontology collection, next to the 3D printed model.
Image: Ben Healley
Source: Museum Victoria

All in all, it was a fun night, and a successful first attempt at our own scanning and printing. Congratulations to all who attended SmartBar and got to take home their own 3D printed ammonite. In case you’re interested, the original is a fossil Pleuroceras sp, which was found in Bavaria in Germany.

We have now uploaded the ammonite scan to Museum Victoria’s collection (of one!) in Thingiverse, a website for sharing 3D printable files and where you’ll find other museums also uploading scans. We’ll continue to add specimens and models there over time.

Happy printing!

(see also Amstrad on display at SmartBar)

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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.