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Smithsonian employs 3D printing to replicate collections

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The Smithsonian Institute intends to digitize its 137 million-piece collection with high-tech scanners and 3D printing. The largest 3D-printed replica on earth is already on display.

The power of 3D printing -- which promises to help make onshore manufacturing and production competitive, improve healthcare, enhance innovation, and even improve our culinary experiences--is being brought to the museum sector.

CNET's Daniel Terdiman reports that the Smithsonian Institute intends to digitize its 137 million-piece collection with high-tech scanners and 3D printing. As Daniel reports, the Smithsonian plans to "create a series of 3D-printed models, exhibits, and scientific replicas--as well as to generate a new digital archive of 3D models of many of the physical objects in its collection."

Replica of Thomas Jefferson statue, in process of being printed. Photo Credit: RedEye on demand, Smithsonian

The 3D printed replica of a Thomas Jefferson statue, installed for the "Slavery at Jefferson's Monticello: Paradox of Liberty" exhibit at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, is currently the "largest 3D printed museum quality historical replica on Earth and is a copy of a statue on display at Monticello, the Thomas Jefferson museum in Virginia," Daniel reports.

This is a massive effort. The Smithsonian says only about two percent of its 137-million-piece collection is available for public viewing at any given time, so this will help open up access to the musuem's treasures.

Prior to this, the only way to replicate pieces such as the Thomas Jefferson statue would be to make a copy employing rubber molding and casting, according to Adam Metallo, a 3D digitization coordinator at the Smithsonian. A Minolta laser scanner worth about $100,000 along was employed, which was then mapped to the printing process.

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Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure