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Stratasys multi-material 3D printing takes Open Heritage project beyond the digital

Google Arts and Culture is 3D printing realistic models of cherished artifacts and monuments

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As one of the biggest players in the 3D printing industry, Stratasys should be acknowledged for its commitment to supporting creative applications for additive manufacturing. Over the years, the company has collaborated with numerous artists, including Neri Oxman, Daniel Widrig, Francis Bitonti and others to showcase how 3D printing is more than just a manufacturing technology but also a medium. Recently, the company leveraged its 3D printing capabilities to pay homage to a number of revered artifacts and historical monuments.

The project was undertaken as part of Google Arts and Culture’s Open Heritage initiative, which aims to reproduce “iconic locations in 3D” and to enable people to “discover the tools of digital preservation.” This broader project was launched in collaboration with CyArk, a California-based nonprofit that travels to various sites across the world to capture and preserve them digitally.

With Stratasys’ multi-colour, multi-material 3D printing technology, the Open Heritage Project is going beyond the realm of the digital to physically reproduce cherished cultural heritage sites and artifacts. Together, Google Arts and Culture and Stratasys have printed a number of realistic prototypes using the J750 3D printer, though the larger idea is to share the 3D printable files with people around the world to enrich the appreciation of humankind’s history.

Stratasys Open Heritage Google
3D models available through the Open Heritage project

“The project was to explore physically making these artifacts in an effort to get people hooked and excited about seeing pieces in a museum or research context,” said Bryan Allen, Design Technologist at Google. “That’s when we turned to 3D printing. With the new wave of 3D printed materials now available, we’re able to deliver better colors, higher finish, and more robust mechanical properties—getting much closer to realistic prototypes and final products right off the machines.”

One specific project where 3D printing is being used is in the restoration of rare plaster casts produced in Guatemala in the 1800s by A.P. Maudslay. Maudslay, a British colonial explorer of the 19th century, used a number of techniques to capture the things he saw in Guatemala, including photography, paper squeezing and plaster casting (there was no 3D scanning then!).

A number of plaster casts taken by Maudslay and his team ended up in storage facilities in the British Museum, where they have been housed for over a century. Now, thanks to 3D scanning, designers have been able to reconstruct the relics virtually and 3D print them, giving them new life. This ability is bringing the Mayan plaster casts to a broader audience than ever before.

Stratasys Open Heritage Google
3D printed model of the largest free-standing monument in the Americas based on plaster casts.

Other 3D models available through the Open Heritage project include the Temple of Bagan, a Waitangi war canoe, Mesa Verde as well as many more. “When we talk to arts and culture preservationists, historians, and museum curators—they’re all absolutely amazed by the ability to fabricate these things with such high fidelity via 3D printing technology,” Allen added.

“The J750 empowers designers to actually achieve their ultimate goal—matching the final 3D print to what is initially seen on the screen,” said Rafie Grinvald, Enterprise Product Director of Rapid Prototyping, Stratasys. “Combining rich colors and translucency in a single print, designers and engineers can build models with heightened levels of accuracy and realism— mirroring opaque or transparent structures, and even complex materials like rubber. Our relationship with Google Arts and Culture is the perfect demonstration of 3D printing paying off— with models that look and feel like the real thing.”

If you don’t have immediate access to a multi-colour, multi-material 3D printer to recreate your own miniature heritage models, there’s good news. Last September, Shapeways and Stratasys announced they were making the technology available through the former’s 3D printing service.

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Tess Boissonneault

Tess Boissonneault is a Montreal-based content writer and editor with five years of experience covering the additive manufacturing world. She has a particular interest in amplifying the voices of women working within the industry and is an avid follower of the ever-evolving AM sector. Tess holds a master's degree in Media Studies from the University of Amsterdam.

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