3D Printing in the DML

posted on 27 Feb 2014 17:50 by Laura Kelly-Bowditch
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Last semester, I proposed a project in collaboration with the Brooklyn Museum, where I intern, to explore using laser scanning and 3D printing to expedite artifact storage and shipping containers. I have been researching the problems that have arisen, including concerns from the Brooklyn Museum conservator about exposing objects to lasers and material concerns (plastics, used in the majority of consumer 3D printers, do not have a good track record for longevity or archival properties!) as well as talking to other museum professionals who have been exploring similar projects. The Yale University Art Gallery has been experimenting with using a CNC machine to cut foam to shape and is exploring creating printable polyethylene, an archival material currently used for storage mounts and packing.

I have been researching whether it is possible to scan an object that can subsequently be used to create a printable negative using CAD software. Ideally, this less invasive process than traditional molding will result in a custom mount or shipping container that is more streamlined than current practices of hand measuring, cutting, and re-cutting materials. Given the available materials we currently have to print with in the DML (ABS Plastic) the resulting custom-molded mount would need to be covered with an archival material, such as Tyvek, and be a material that would not be damaged by a hard mount. Additionally, the workflow as it stands is much slower than traditional techniques and consumer technology has a long way to go before scanning and printing a mount is easier or better than what is done now.

As Andrew touched on in his last post, Ariel Rosenblum, a first year MA student, has just finished installing her exhibit in Northampton, MA featuring two art pieces she scanned and printed with our Makerbot Replicator.


Working through an entire project, from scanning to tweaking the model to printing was a great practical opportunity to experience this workflow with a real project, instead of a theoretical application. It has been a great experience for all of us in the DML. The more we print, the better a handle we get on the quirks of the equipment and software. For example, we are experimenting with ways to keep models from warping off the build platform. As it turns out, we should have been replacing the protective tape every few builds. Whoops! If new tape doesn’t fix the warping problem, we have a few tricks up our sleeves now, including hairspray and sanding the tape.

Ariel’s sculpture, featuring a rock wrapped in felted wool, presented particular challenges for our equipment and software. Ariel scanned her piece twiceβ€”once to capture the sides and a second time to read the top and bottom.


Melding these two scans required virtual pins to be placed on the same point in each scan, so the software can then match up and fuse the two data sets. When scanned, the irregular texture of the materials was rendered as holey. The resulting print represents a fascinating visual interpretation of the original artwork, with the internal supports the MakerWare software inserted to support the structure during printing highly visible and adding to the aesthetic impact of the object. Ariel printed several versions of her first piece, the largest of which took a total of 17 hours.


Kimon has been working his way through the components of a set of headphones. Once printed, these components can be assembled with some wire and electronics equipment to create a useable product! Come by and check it out, we try to send emails when we’re printing. We also welcome project ideas and would love to work with you if you have any ideas for ways to use our scanner and printer.


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