Craft Fair: 3D Printing
The 3D printing table was a little different than other tables. Our recreations could be moved, touched, etc. but we did not have hands-on activities apart from object handling. We featured a few items at the table, including the metal spearhead modeled by Henry, the bone comb modeled by McClain, funerary urns modeled by Austin, and a portion of the Sheffield Cross Shaft modeled by Mary Chester-Kadwell, working for the British Museum.
The slightly-less-than-exciting setup of the 3D printing table meant that our audience was more interested in other hands-on tables, like carving or modeling with clay, which is understandable. If the rain had not driven away more of our prospective audience, its likely our table would have been a “waiting stop” for those taking turns at rune or bone carving. However, our advantage was that when the torrential rain arrived less than halfway through our craft fair, the rain posed no threat to our objects.
The creation of our objects followed the same basic process. First, a model was made, either by students, our professor Austin Mason, or by a professional who then uploaded their project to sketchlab and allowed downloads. (Thanks, Mary!) All of our projects were made using photogrammetry, a process where a program calculates the values of a three dimensional object from a series of overlapping photographs. Many of our object reconstructions were done with photogrammetry.
Once the models were made, they were shown to Prof. Austin Mason, who ensured they were watertight. Making sure a mesh is watertight, or sealed on all sides so the virtual model could hold water if possible, is a crucial step of the 3D printing process – printers do not handle 2D planes with openings or impossible geometry very well.
Once our models were cleared for the printer, they were sent to Andrew Wilson, our contact in the Academic Technology department, who did a final check that they were suitable for printing, and started the process.
Each object took anywhere between 5-10 hours to print. Larger objects obviously take more time and filament, but complexity also adds time. The new 3D printers in our Academic Technology office are capable of printing objects with water soluble frames. These frames are necessary to support an object as it prints. Previously, our 3D printer used a plastic support that had to be manually broken off and filed down. The new water soluble frameworks printed along a model mean an object can be thrown in a bowl of water and left to clean itself overnight.
Or, the water soluble frames (made of a dried glue-like substance) can be easily peeled off by hand if you are perhaps an impatient college student.
Our table at the craft fair was about the objects as much as it was about the process of 3D printing. 3D printing is increasingly relevant in academic settings and it was very useful for us here. Unfortunately, there are not many Anglo-Saxon or Norse artifacts present in Minnesota, and definitely not many we could have set out for an undergrad craft fair. Some of the objects, like the Sheffield cross shaft, or other examples of stone working, are too large to be moved or transported across continents, even for the most serious academic pursuits. 3D printing allows scholars to study the physical materiality of objects like these through a 3D representation, instead of photos or drawings.