What is 3D Printing?

Known in industrial circles as rapid prototyping, 3D printing refers to technologies that construct physical objects from three-dimensional (3D) digital content such as 3D modeling software, computer-aided design (CAD) tools, computer-aided tomography (CAT), and X-ray crystallography. A 3D printer builds a tangible model or prototype from the electronic file, one layer at a time, through an extrusion-like process using plastics and other flexible materials, or an inkjet-like process to spray a bonding agent onto a very thin layer of fixable powder. The deposits created by the machine can be applied very accurately to build an object from the bottom up, layer by layer, with resolutions that, even in the least expensive machines, are more than sufficient to express a large amount of detail. The process even accommodates moving parts within the object. Using different materials and bonding agents, color can be applied, and parts can be rendered in plastic, resin, metal, tissue, and even food. This technology is commonly used in manufacturing to build prototypes of almost any object (scaled to fit the printer, of course) that can be conveyed in three dimensions.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

  • This is the perfect technology for allowing access to collection objects which would otherwise be inaccessible. Furthermore, it expands the usefulness of objects to potentially being used in the intended manner. An example would be printing a functional whistle or other instrument that could actually be played. - jaronowitz jaronowitz Oct 20, 2014
  • A usable museum map finally?! http://www.fastcodesign.com/3037495/lost-at-the-museum-this-ingenious-3-d-map-makes-navigation-a-cinch - lkelly lkelly Oct 23, 2014- jludden jludden Nov 4, 2014
  • There is a group of us who have been experimenting with 3D-Printing in Museums. I recently completed an IMLS Sparks grant supported project at the Art Institute called Museum3D that evaluated use of 3-D in public programs. We are in the process of writing up the findings (some of the project documentation lives on the Museum3D blog. Some of the key findings are linked to the type of facilitation involved and the involvement with the 3-D ecosystem. I can provide more info, if it makes sense.[- lizneely.mail lizneely.mail Oct 26, 2014]
  • 3-D printing provides opportunities to aid with multi-sensory experiences - for general audiences and those with reduced senses (such as the blind). As part of the Museum3D project we added full-sized 3-D printed replicas to museum tours, allowing the blind to 'see the object for themselves'. I think this is part of a very good trend to provide information through all the senses. [- lizneely.mail lizneely.mail Oct 26, 2014]- jludden jludden Nov 4, 2014
  • Accessibility of objects and exhibits for visually impaired visitors as Liz mentions could be one of the most relevant to the educational sector. We have incorporated more expensive tactile objects in our permanent exhibits but will this Fall include 3D printed representations of photographs in an exhibit so that visually impaired visitors can 'feel' the photos. ( - ryand ryand Oct 28, 2014 )
  • We have been experimenting with 3D printing for several years now and have started to develop some good use cases. One is for exhibition prototyping. Our 3D designers used to make exhibition showcase layout models using foamcore and hot glue. We now print exhibition models out, to scale. This allows our designers to get a much better feel for layout and placement. Secondly, we are printing out things like hominid skulls and dinosaur bones for use in science education programs for senior secondary students who visit our museums. Third, we are scanning and printing real objects from our collections and have been working closely with our preparators on this next phase of replica making. Our palaeontologists are particularly enthusiastic and use 3D scanning and printing to assist them with rearticulation of delicate skeletons, for example. We have been loading some of the scans to Thingiverse so that they can be shared more widely - ewallis ewallis Oct 30, 2014

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • The rapidly changing cost for these technologies and the emerging focus on consumer friendly hardware/software. - jaronowitz jaronowitz Oct 20, 2014
  • Should we be considering 4D printing? http://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/Objects-That-Change-Shape-On-Their-Own-180951449/?no-ist - lkelly lkelly Oct 26, 2014
  • A challenge is that people are excited by the technology, but don't necessarily know how to incorporate meaningfully into curriculum (formal or informal). We need to approach new opportunities systematically and share that knowledge with colleagues and educators for the tool to be meaningful. [- lizneely.mail lizneely.mail Oct 26, 2014] +1 - dhegley dhegley Nov 4, 2014- jludden jludden Nov 4, 2014
  • Cannot agree more - the changing cost will help make this technology more accessible. - rstriojr rstriojr Oct 28, 2014
  • We often talk about 3D printing as an end in itself. If we have learnt anything, it's that getting a printable file is one of the biggest challenges. We need to include either or both of creating 3D files using an autocad or other program; and/or introducing and teaching about scanning technologies as part of the whole thing. Otherwise all museums are doing is printing out stuff that someone else has done the work to create. [- ewallis ewallis Oct 30, 2014] Can't be more true - getting a good printable file fast and easy remain one of the biggest challenges, especially in non-engineering fields. - kaja kaja Nov 2, 2014
  • Unless you invest in very expensive, manufacturer-quality 3D printers, the process is excruciatingly slow. And a bit like watching paint dry. I understand some of the use cases certainly, but making 3D printing part of an active, maker-oriented experience within a museum (on a museum budget) is still probably a few years down the road. Let's all hope that consumer-grade 3D printer technology makes rapid leaps forward. - dhegley dhegley Nov 4, 2014

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on education and interpretation in museums?

  • Not only will this give a hands-on experience with what would typically be hands-off objects, by allowing the ability to engage with the model in some way beyond touching (painting the object, manipulating the 3D model, meshing together with other 3D models, etc.) a meaningful moment is achieved. - jaronowitz jaronowitz Oct 20, 2014 +1 [- lizneely.mail lizneely.mail Oct 26, 2014]
  • To also show visitors that they can too make something by iterating on the artwork digitally. Helping reinforce the museum as a potential platform for creativity. [- lizneely.mail lizneely.mail Oct 26, 2014] +1, but this can be done without 3D printers, and many objects are 2D - dhegley dhegley Nov 4, 2014
  • We run education sessions using Google Hangouts that schools can log in to. A recent session on palaeontology was very popular. I can see a time where we'd advertise 3D printable files along with the session so that an educator at a regional museum could print out, e.g. some of the paleontological specimens ahead of time so that the students could not only interact with the scientist in real time in the Hangout but also handle replicas of some of the specimens that they were hearing about. That would be cool! [- ewallis ewallis Oct 30, 2014] +1 - dhegley dhegley Nov 4, 2014
  • We are also planning a makerspace where students or others could come to test out their ideas for printable files [- ewallis ewallis Oct 30, 2014]- jludden jludden Nov 4, 2014
  • With different materials (wood, cheramics) available for low-budget, 3D printing will be even more useful. Low-budget 3D printing of textures (like Zprinter) will be useful as well. For hands-on applications a lot of visitors expect that replicas are smooth as originals (layers are sometimes problematic), have the same weight and made with a good texture. - kaja kaja Nov 2, 2014

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

  • Currently we are printing "3D artifacts" for use in onsite programming - jaronowitz jaronowitz Oct 20, 2014 as are we [- ewallis ewallis Oct 30, 2014]
  • - AHelmreich AHelmreich Oct 24, 2014The Smithsonian's use of this technology to create "replicas" of Native North American artifacts that could be given to the respective communities is a compelling use case scenario.
  • Museum3D at the Art Institute. (We are writting up our findings now). The study was to run 6 programs incorporating 3D with different audiences and formally evaluate if it allowed visitors to engage on a deeper level with the museum collection. (I am the contact for this, though no longer at the AIC.) [- lizneely.mail lizneely.mail Oct 26, 2014] < I cannot wait to see the results! Sounds like a fantastic study. - Jeff.A Jeff.A Oct 28, 2014- jludden jludden Nov 4, 2014
  • An article about 3D printing student project related to learning and architectural heritage communication: "Ball State University Students Recreate 3D Model of Demolished Landmark with 3D Printing Technology" - "The Indiana Architecture X3D (IAX3D) project with modeling details and the full building of the Wysor Grand Opera House, a Romanesque Revival building constructed in Muncie, Indiana, in 1891, and torn down in 1967" http://3dprint.com/21516/ball-state-3d-printing/ - kaja kaja Oct 29, 2014
  • The Smithsonian has interesting projects described here: http://3d.si.edu/ [- ewallis ewallis Oct 30, 2014]
  • There was a new sauropod dinosaur described this year where the bones were 3D scanned and the scans were released as part of the scientific paper. Links can be found from here; http://www.cnet.com/au/news/supermassive-dinosaur-found-in-argentina-meet-dreadnoughtus/ [- ewallis ewallis Oct 30, 2014]
  • The Smithsonian Museum of American History also 3D scanned an entire gunboat. I don't know if they've ever made printable files available but the scanning project is described here: http://americanhistory.si.edu/exhibitions/gunboat-philadelphia [- ewallis ewallis Oct 30, 2014]
  • And just out from the British Museum: http://mashable.com/2014/10/31/british-museum-3d-printing-sketchfab/?utm_cid=mash-com-Tw-main-link [- ewallis ewallis Oct 31, 2014]
  • We had 3D scanned the world's oldest found wooden spear, a delicate archaeological wood, which can be in the air (out of water) for a very short time. Later a full color 3D printed replica was made and used at the exhibitions, as well as a special museum gift/souvenir. Photos: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.132434753454108.15877.105336109497306&type=3. We 3D printed also some reconstructions: a castle which is today in ruins was made upon medieval woodcuts; a roman sundial was made in two parts, that can be assembled or not - 3D scanned original part and 3D reconstructed part made upon scientific documentation. Photos:http://www.3dt.si/pdf/Mediji_in_mi/Klik96%2022_23_soncna_ura.pdf For PhD I experimented with full color "3D printed puzzles" of a plastic kiosk (1970's), a design icon. A model was made for a museum exhibition in order to encourage visitors to learn (and understand) how kiosk was made and selling - similar to idea of IKEA. With 3D puzzles a creative potential of visitors is stimulated as well. http://kaja-antlej.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Antlej_K67__ENG.pdf The 3D puzzles are based on an idea of "Make a 3D model" hands-on exhibit at the Conservation centre in Liverpool. A silicon 3D puzzles of Artemis were made from 3D printed models. http://vimeo.com/15735676 - kaja kaja Nov 2, 2014

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