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?

  • Why haven't more conservators started going crazy with this technology? It should be so clearly ready for their use in so many ways!! - emilyllytle emilyllytle Feb 26, 2016 I've had that thought as well! - heathermarie.wells heathermarie.wells Feb 29, 2016
  • I think this technology will become relevant as a tool used within a makerspace. It could be a boon in art museums that offer design or sculpture classes. I can see any kind of museum using it to re-create missing pieces of objects to aid guests in better understanding the object as a whole. I can also museums putting it to work to make objects more accessible as far as a “touchable” for guests with visual impairments or as an operational object substitute. For instance, being able to 3D print a working historical cotton gin that guests can see function. - heathermarie.wells heathermarie.wells Feb 29, 2016
  • 3D printing has already launched the era of the next Industrial Revolution, but is the current education sector aligning itself to the rapidly evolving technologies and preparing the current generation for the jobs of today and tomorrow? That where 3D printing is relevant to the education sector...in opening the horizons for today's youth to exciting 21st Century Career Pathways where savvy digital skills are a must. 3D printing is an essential tool to develop and launch the next innovation, across any field. pgangopadhyay- PGangopadhyay PGangopadhyay Feb 29, 2016

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

  • Need to expand this to 3D digitization, of which 3D printing is just one application. The real value of 3D digitization has yet to be realized, but will likely include new ways of thinking about collections as data (once it it 3D digitized, the resulting "image" is really a mass of data points that can now be analyzed in untold ways. For biological collections, for example, specimens can now be measured at very minute levels, helping is analysis of speciation and more.) Also, 3D images will likely have many virtual applications, such as in video games, or online models that can be manipulated in virtual spaces (flying a 3D version of the Space Shuttle, for example.) 3D printing is the least of it! - dianezorich dianezorich Feb 24, 2016 +1 - dhegley dhegley Feb 26, 2016 +1 - ewallis ewallis Feb 28, 2016 - Merete.Sanderhoff Merete.Sanderhoff Feb 29, 2016
  • I feel like we have been talking about 3D printing for a while, I would love to see a larger, more experimental use of the technology start to be adopted. - emilyllytle emilyllytle Feb 26, 2016
  • Actually getting a 3D printable file is the much bigger challenge than the actual printing process. I definitely think that this topic should be expanded to 3D digitisation as suggested above. 3D print machines look cool and very futuristic but the real work is not in turning one on and pressing 'go'. You either need someone experienced in 3D design to create a file from the ground up, or you need to scan/digitise/image things from the real world. This is where the technology is really interesting and challenging for museums - ewallis ewallis Feb 28, 2016
  • We definitely need to add the discussion on CAD software/skills without which the basic design for 3D printing is impossible. Which brings the issue of training as many educators are still apprehensive of welcoming these technologies into classrooms. CAD use to be an elective or taught in trade schools, but needs to be a core skill every high schooler should be proficient in, to be successful in their future careers. pgangopadhyay- PGangopadhyay PGangopadhyay Feb 29, 2016

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

  • Once our goals move beyond "let's print a little thing, isn't it cute?" to a more-sophisticated approach, the potential impact grows exponentially. We are experimenting with extremely hi-rez 3D capture, allowing us to do a level of surface mapping that is more precise and manipulatable than laser scanning. In fact, the resulting files are so large and dense that it takes a special dedicated server (with 80 core processors, yes EIGHTY) plus custom software just to read the darned things. But we see this as the future, not just for 3D printing (which will only get better) but also for record photography, scientific and scholarly research, and more-practical applications like 3D printing the padding to put around an object for shipping - to an absolutely perfect fit. - dhegley dhegley Feb 26, 2016 - Merete.Sanderhoff Merete.Sanderhoff Feb 29, 2016
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(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?