3D Printing Museum Artifacts Bring a Fossilized Field Back From the Dead

By Matthew Milstead

Every museum has a shop to entice users to purchase miniature items seen in the exhibits, but with 3D-printing technology, your experience might change for the better. Imagine if you were a child studying dinosaurs in your elementary school class and you had the ability to actually touch a replica of a dinosaur fossil. This is exactly what students who are studying fossils in Melbourne, Australia, are soon going to be able to do. Printing 3D models of actual fossils can open the door for students to get an up-close and personal view of the fossils of the ancient beasts that roamed the earth.

3D Printed Dinosaur Skull

3D-printed dinosaur skull

Seeing Is Believing

When exclusive access to artifacts is limited, it makes it difficult for students who want to learn more about fossils to get a deeper understanding of how a complex bone structure works. 3D printing like Paramate can revolutionize fields that require access to intricate and priceless objects. The process for creating a scan is harmless. With CT and laser scanning, it’s possible to get an exact replica of an item without even touching the artifact.

Scientists can also get a better view of an object without having to resort to a magnifying class. Since the object can easily be scaled larger or smaller, it’s possible to get a replica of an object in the exact form factor needed for analysis. Imagine the ability to scale the skeletal structure of a Brontosaurus to an accurate model that can fit on a desk. This makes it easier to discover any flaws in the construction of the bone structure, and it can make it easier to get a wide view of the fossilized creature. It’s also possible to enlarge smaller specimens to make them easier to review.

Tactile Sensations Improve Analysis

This reduces the risk of damage to priceless fossils, and it allows a more robust hands-on analysis of fossils that were previously too delicate to hold. The ability to interact with fossils has been limited in the past for fear of breaking the fossils. Using a model removes that risk since it’s always possible to print another.

3D-printed T-rex

3D-printed T-rex

Printing Your Favorite Fossils at Home

In addition to the boom that printing fossils can provide to museums, with on-demand printing options it’s possible for museums to increase revenues and generate additional interest with realistic models. A discussion of Australopithecus is no longer limited to two-dimensional slides and images. It’s now possible to print your very own Lucy for use in your classroom or keep in your home.

In 2008, The University of Texas placed Lucy under a CT scanner. The team was able to create a theory about how Lucy died thanks to the models that came about as a result of these scans. The model could be enlarged or shrunk to make it easier to analyze the bones for any evidence of trauma. The result is that the team ended up concluding Lucy died after falling from a 30-foot tree. While some scientists do argue with the results, the ability to have your very own Lucy in your home represents a phenomenal advance in 3D-printing technology.

Choose From a Library of Fossils

The British Geological Service is busy creating a large database that includes thousands of fossils that are held in various collections. Many of the records include 3D models as well. Currently, it’s possible to manipulate these models from within a display case. With the rapid development of 3D printing, however, it may soon be possible to order your favorite fossils for home delivery.

As the technology continues to develop and becomes more affordable, the ability to bring the science class to the homeschool or public school environment will become a reality. As students learn with hands-on models that are created in strikingly authentic detail, the field of 3D printing will improve learning and potentially spur an entire generation of scientists. The implications go beyond fossils, and this technology could be used to help students study anatomy, biology and even get an up-close and personal view of a microbe. It’s hard to believe that printers would end up playing such a huge role in the development of science, but the future is here and it brings the past along with it in excruciatingly accurate detail.

Matthew Milstead is a blogger and writer from Australia interested in and covering topics relating to printing technology, 3D modeling, 3D printing and education. You can contact him on Twitter.

An Embarrassment of Riches: 3D Printing Filament Options Multiply

One of the aspects of being on the leading edge – or as I like to refer to it, the bleeding edge – of a huge movement is watching what you did become history.

That is certainly true about 3D printing.

Liberator 3D printed gunAs important and world-changing as the Internet has been, 3D printing may exceed the Internet’s importance because of the number of industries it has infiltrated.

Part of that has been because the concept of 3D printing – building a three-dimensional object by simply “stacking” 2 dimensional layers on top of one another – has implications for medical, scientific, fashion and other fields as well as art.

We’ve all heard about the gun that was 3D printed, but most people didn’t get beyond the fact that a 3D-printed gun isn’t really practical. (Besides, I’m really tired of hearing about that damn gun!)

Yes, people are already 3D printing in metal, biomaterials and other specialty filaments – heck, even I have printed in bronze – but we seem to have moved into a new era ….

I realized this when I got an email from MakerShaper, a North Carolina based 3D-printer filament company, to let us know that they now have a 3D-printing Filament Comparison Guide.

MakerShaper Filament Comparison GuideWe’re not talking about bronze, copper, steel or wood (well, sorta wood), as I’ve written about before. This guide tells you more about different “non-exotic” types of filament like PLA and ABS, which most of us print in. (I’d love to print in 100% bronze, for instance, but the 80%  bronze / 20% PLA works for me now.)

Yes, now that 3D printing is become more and more mainstream, people need filaments that are flexible, drop resistant, food safe, heat resistant and that have other special qualities. And now they can have them.

Considering the speed with which this industry is developing, this is surely only the beginning. I can’t wait to see what else is over the horizon.

Maybe I will be able to 3D print that key lime pie with chocolate graham cracker crust sooner than I’d hoped ….

 

3D Printing Contributes to Evolution of Form

Limoncello Prima, a 3D printed fine art sculpture - Kevin Caron

Sometimes I just start creating, as I am doing with a metal sculpture in my studio right now.

Sometimes I design in CAD (which is how I got into 3D printing in the first place!) and then create the form in metal or resin.

And sometimes a sculpture evolves as it is created. That’s exactly what happened with a recent artwork, 50 Years of Limoncello.

Well, it really began with a call for an art show in New York. The show, “The HeART of Italy,” celebrates the spirit, history, people and places of that romantic land, where I spent time a couple of years ago.

Thinking about my time in Italy, I decided to use some of that luscious translucent yellow PLA filament to create a sculpture to submit to the show.

What I didn’t anticipate – but surely embraced – was how the artwork evolved. But then, that’s part of the beauty of creating art ….

 

I first printed a form that, as many of my sculptures do, celebrates the female form. After looking at it, I decided to use the same filament to create a more, shall we say, lusty sculpture.

But when I placed the two forms together, I began to see something else, an artwork composed of three forms. I decided to 3D print yet another sculpture, using the same beautiful yellow filament and the same basic design, but making it noticeably more slender than the other two.

The result is something that some in the art world might question (but what else is new about my work!), but that came together beautifully, simply because I followed my eye, my heart and my intuition.50 Years of Limoncello, a 3D printed fine art sculpture - Kevin Caron

The sculpture, 50 Years of Limoncello – that drink is one of my warm memories from my trip to Italy! – features three sculptures that, together, share the evolution of many of us who indulge in the pleasures of life. Each sculpture – Limoncello Prima, Limoncello Mezza and Limoncello Troppa – can stand on its own, yet together they create a story.

Now let’s just hope that the judges in that New York show love this piece as much as I do!

 

Using a 3D printer to refine a design

Creating isn’t always a one-shot process.

When I first conceived my 3D filament sizing set up, the bent piece of metal through which the filament ran to ensure there were no lumps that could jam the 3D printer seemed a simple yet elegant solution.

After using it for a while – and catching my coat on it, as you’ll hear about in the video – I realized there was a better way ….

This video explains what I came up with and how I used my 3D printer to create, then refine the design:

‘Novelty’ 3D-printing filament has real applications

3D-printing ColorFabb ngen_flex-rubber filamentNot everything I create on my 3D printers is artwork. I’ve written before about using my CAD software and 3D printing other things – it’s super handy for making parts as well as other items simply for fun.

That includes the cool design I came up with for a Farkle board.

As with most things, after I used the farkle board, I began to see some ways to improve the design. PLA resin creates a hard, stiff surface, so I added a padded bed to the first boards I printed.

That helped, but I wondered if I could eliminate the need for the padding while still getting a quiet, controlled throw of the dice by printing the design in rubber.

Fortunately, the Dutch filament maker ColorFabb offers a rubber filament called NGen_FLEX (usually called “Ninjaflex”) in 3 millimeter, perfect for my 8-foot-tall Gigante 3D printer ….

3D printed rubber farkle board - Kevin CaronThe print went remarkably smoothly. Most important for a piece with such a big footprint, the filament stuck to the print tray beautifully.

The only oddity was lots rubber “boogers” throughout the print. I think they were caused because, as often happens, the print head made some odd passes, repeatedly printing non-existent corners of the board before going around. That certainly contributed some of the slubs.

The aberrations were easy to cut off with my flush cutters, though – those little cutters are a truly handy tool to have around when 3D printing!

I found some purple dice with white dots, making it look like I’d actually thought through the color scheme – LOL.

Before we knew it, we were playing Farkle with a surprisingly quiet board that had just the right amount of bounce.

Of course, now that I have a little experience with this filament, I’m dreaming about what I can do it with it artistically ….

Surprises selling 3D-printed sculpture

Three of my large format 3D-printed sculptures at Vision Gallery - Kevin CaronI got great news this week when a check arrived from one of my retailers, Vision Gallery in Chandler, Arizona.

Vision has been carrying my work for a while, and for the past many months they have displayed the largest collection of my 3D-printed sculpture outside of a special show I did this past February. With glass walls on three exposures, the gallery is the perfect place for 3D-printed sculpture, especially light-hungry translucent pieces.

I wasn’t surprised that the sculpture they sold this month was Lemon Drop (shown on next page), a particularly luscious piece printed in translucent yellow PLA filament. Of all the translucents I’ve used thus far, the yellow is by far the most beautiful. It seems to capture and reflect the light.

The blue translucent is downright cold, although still beautiful, while the red tends to glow. The purple is more subtle, as evidenced in Josephine, a sculpture I recently completed that is on display at Vision Gallery. I love the emails I get from the gallery manager, who keeps snapping and sending photos of the sculptures as the light moves across the sky. She’ll write such reports as “Miss Josephine looks particularly sultry today.” That’s music to my ears: it means the art is as alive for her as it is for me.

What has surprised me, though, is who is buying my 3D-printed sculptures ….

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Stick this! Adhering a 3D print is key during printing

3d printing-lifted corner - Kevin CaronOne of the challenges of 3D printing that I think – knock on wood – I’ve finally worked through is adherence to the print tray.

There’s nothing more frustrating than having a 3D print come loose from the tray while a print is underway, and it’s something that’s happened to me far more times than I even like to think about.

The Cerberus 3D Gigante’s large format prints are particularly prone to this problem – I have a few large prints the corners of which have “flipped up” slightly because they cooled faster than the rest of the print. See an example to the right – fortunately in this case, it works with the concept and theme of the sculpture!

Sometimes, though, a lifted corner ruins the print altogether.

Other times, on any of my printers, a 3D print simply comes loose from the print tray – then it’s game over.

But I’ve learned a few things and updated some to improve my quality and finish rate ….

 

My 3D Systems CubeX came with some sticky stuff that I used on that 3D printer until I got my Cerberus 3D machines, when I learned about using hairspray. Yes, hairspray. (I’m sure they wonder at the grocery store when I buy three or four cans of Suave Extreme Hold hairspray. I just smile.)

Suave Extra Hold Hair Spray - 3D printingI still use hairspray – more on that in a moment – but I’ve gotten away from using blue tape. That was the other trick I learned when I got my Gigante. I’d apply painters’ blue tape – the kind that is supposed to release easily – to the print tray, pressing down just as hard as I could. It worked sometimes, but not always. Also, not all blue tape is created equally, apparently.

I don’t like the blue tape because

  1. It is hard to get off the tray
  2. It’s especially difficult to get off the sculptures
  3. It doesn’t always seem to work.

What seems to work best is a heated tray. That’s why I added one to my CubeX and another to the Gigante. 3D prints adhere much better with heat! I don’t think I’ve had a problem with large format prints lifting up since I installed the heated tray on the Gigante.

Of course, you don’t just use heat. Before I start a 3D print, I also clean the print tray well, then spray it liberally with hairspray before I start printing.

Of all the challenges with 3D printing, I think – THINK – I have this one licked.

What I don’t need to do when 3D printing

Artist Kevin Caron standing beside his Gigante 3D printerDuring my recent art show when I had my Cerberus 3D Gigante 3D printer running, several visitors asked whether I just pushed “go” and walked away while printing.

After I finished laughing, I’d explain that running this printer is like having a 3-year-old. You can never entirely take your eye off of it, and sometimes it requires extra care, other times it needs discipline. (I haven’t spanked yet, but I’ve sure thought about it.)

All of that is to say there is plenty to think about when a print is under way.

A few months ago, my business manager asked me if it would make sense to keep a log of my prints. For instance, she thought maybe I could note when I started the print, when I changed spools, etc. I could even track when I turned on the fan, what speed I was running at for how long, and other such details.

“That’s probably the last thing I want to do!” I replied ….

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Aesthetic tweaking with 3D-printed designs

Daisy Mae, a 3D printed fine art sculpture by Kevin CaronWorking with my 3D-printed sculptures requires a balance of aesthetic and technical considerations. In the big picture, that’s not all that unlike working with metal, but the way I do it is definitely different in each medium.

Take my latest 3D-printed sculpture, Daisy Mae (right).

As usual, I began playing with forms in CAD, this time in Rhino. It took a couple of tries to get it to print properly – there were some hiccups with adherence to the print tray (I really need to clean it better before trying to print!) – but it was a pretty painless 3D print, and boy, do I love this yellow translucent filament!

With the print came a couple of surprises, as is so often true. One surprise was great, one less than great – more on both of these in a moment.

So clearly, I need to make some tweaks to the design…

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Test driving a new – old – host program on a big 3D print

Pronterface screen, 3D printing - Kevin Caron's 3D printing blogDealing with sudden, inexplicable fails got me to try some new things. I don’t know which, if any, are related to why my Cerberus 3D Gigante 3D printer just stopped cold without apparent reason, but it sent me back to play with a host program I’d only used once or twice before.

In fact, when my 3D printing guru suggested I use Pronterface instead of Repetier, which we thought might be the problem, I remembered I had a version of it. It was old, so the first thing I did was download the latest version of this venerable – well, for 3D printing! – host program.

Pronterface is apparently one of the most common interfaces used by 3D printer software. It can move and home all 3 axes independently, as well as offering a temperature graph, extrude and retract buttons, a window showing the current layer’s tool path, and a window to enter G-code. Some users complain that it’s too basic or don’t like the program’s look and feel, but it seems very clean and easy to use to me.

The big question is whether and how it works ….

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