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Replicating artefacts with additive manufacturing

  • Transforming how historical artefacts can be reproduced & restored using additive manufacturing research, advanced design & digital technologies

Overview

This research has facilitated the use of innovative additive manufacturing (3D printing) techniques for the accurate replication and restoration of cultural heritage artefacts, providing museums with the opportunity to illustrate a more inspiring view of their specialist historical area.

Research & Impact

Research has highlighted how 3D scanning and 3D printing can be used in the heritage sector to restore and replicate major historical works. Before this research, the use of digital technologies had not been seen as cost or time effective to create such complicated and intricate restoration.

Experts in additive manufacturing and historians worked together to contribute to various research projects at museums worldwide. At the Manchester Museum, 3D scanning technology was used to identify the contents of ancient Egyptian mummies. The 3D scanning enabled experts to identify the human anatomy within the mummy, although dehydrated and deformed, as well as other contents and materials, to produce 3D reproductions of the mummified skulls, amulets, ceramic eyes and clay pots. A major touring exhibition “Mummy: the inside story” was launched due to this work, as well as  book and short film, providing the museum with the opportunity to share their findings with a far wider audience. In addition, computer-aided visualisation techniques have been developed to help visitors better understand the contents of mummies. Physical items were also produced so that the items could be handled for a physical understanding of the artefacts for museum staff and visitors; specifically assisting visually impaired visitors.

Other research work with museums in Beijing in conjunction with the Ancient Architecture Department has used 3D printing, CNC machining and manual finishing techniques to capture geometry details, simulate materials and test material effects to reproduce full colour and full-size replicas.

Much of this research work started as a PhD study, which has then developed and continued, including the PhD student creating a company focusing on Creative Digital Heritage. The PhD research identified how different techniques and combinations of techniques would work most effectively to replicate artefacts. The investigations examined the needs of replication for different artefacts, considering scale, material and intricacy, and found how digital tools and traditional artistic techniques could combine to get the best possible result. Successful works include the replication of a full-size pair of guardian bronze lions from the entrance to the Summer Palace, three replicas of large stone artefacts using advanced digital technologies and a coloured ceramic window decoration using full coloured 3D printing.

Impact

  • Producing accurate replicas and restorations of historical artefacts using digital techniques 
  • Cost and time effective preservation of historical information 
  • Inspiring new exhibitions & public engagement with museums 
  • Developing a better knowledge and understanding of the artefacts for staff and visitors 
  • New start-up company established