Belgian 3D printing service and software solutions provider Materialise, to undertake its largest project ever, 3D printing a life-size reconstruction of the first mammoth skeleton that was ever displayed in Western Europe. The structure will be on display from October onwards.
The mammoth structure includes 320 bones. All these bones were scanned and digitally reconstructed and will still be printed, finished and fitted with a customized frame to hold up the skeleton.
The mammoth will be on display in the Belgian city of Lier, the place where the original mammoth was found. The project is carried out in close collaboration with the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels. It will be mounted on a modern interior mounting structure.
3D Printing the Mammoth
The 3D printing project posed several challenges for the Materialise engineers of which one of them was reconstructing the bones. For this, each one of the 320 bones was scanned at the museum and the entire skeleton was digitally reconstructed in collaboration with the resident paleontologist Dr. Mietje Germonpré to achieve its accurate anatomical structure. Each scan as cleaned and prepared for 3D printing in the Materialise Magics software.
In order to hold the structure together, Materialise engineers designed an advanced interior mounting structure made from carbon which is integrated into the bones. This means that the incorporation of this new mount was thought about right at the starting phase of the project. The engineers integrated the structure into the bones. Once the carbon structure was designed it was manufactured by its daughter company RapidFit. They manufactured a strong but lightweight structure weighing only 300 kg.
Project Manager at Materialise, Gertjan Brienen says “The scale of the project is challenging, particularly because we had to bring different experts together, including engineers, paleontologists, and finishing specialists, and align our vision of the finished model, all while meeting tight deadlines.”
He continued, “The original skeleton presents some inaccuracies which reflect the knowledge at the time of the original mounting 150 years ago. One example is the length of its tail, which we now know is shorter than initially thought. The original mammoth skeleton is also missing a few bones, including its left tusk. We mirrored the right tusk and recreated it in Materialise 3-matic to achieve a more precise replica than the wooden tusk that was used to complete the original skeleton. The broken upper jaw was also restored accurately by mirroring the original bone structure. This means the 3D-printed mammoth will be more scientifically accurate than the original.”
All the bones of the mammoth will be 3D printed on nine ‘Mammoth Stereolithography’ printers at Materialise. These printers are specially designed by Materialise for printing extra-large parts.
Materialise is involved in every aspect of creating the massive structure from scanning and optimizing them, designing and manufacturing the mounting structure, printing the skeleton and post-processing it. This directly represents the 3D printing service capabilities of Materialise.
The mammoth will take more than one month to print. Thereafter it will be finished and painted with a combination of different paints so the bones can match the original skeleton as precisely as possible.
Resident paleontologist of the museum said, “3D Printing is increasingly proving to be an extremely useful tool in the field of paleontology, allowing us to study fossils without damaging the precious originals, and collaborate virtually on the same fossil with colleagues around the world. Working on the first entire mammoth skeleton ever to be 3D printed has been a unique experience.”
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