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TrendsWatch Update: 3-D Scanning and Printing

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog
 So much good stuff, what to highlight? 3-D printing overall continues to take off. In June, MakerBot was bought for $403M by industrial printing company Stratsys, demonstrating the industry’s belief in the exploding market for desktop printing for personal use and small businesses.
Tech and expertise barriers to 3-D design continue to fall, as interfaces proliferate to assist in the design process. For example, Doodle3D turns sketches made on a computer, tablet or smartphone into printable 3D design specs. Futurist-entrepreneur Elon Musk has announced he has created a gestural interface for 3D design, to make the process simpler and more intuitive. And MakerBot just introduced a “no-muss, no fuss” 3D scanner
Every day seems to see news of another application of 3D tech. NASA just successfully tested 3D printed rocket components, with the goal of making space exploration simpler and cheaper. The space agency is also exploring the potential for printing food, to help liven the diet of astronauts on long space missions. 
We’ve also seen an explosion of applications of 3-D printing and scanning in museums. Just a few cool examples:
The Brooklyn Museum is exploring applications of the technology for accessibility, creating a project to bring 3D printed objects into their series of “sensory tours.”
The American Museum of Natural History’s two-week “Capturing Dinosaurs” camp used digital fabrication tools and the museum’s collections to help teens explore paleontology. (At least one teen was inspired to consider a career combining paleo and tech—see his remarks in the video, below. “I can do this!”)
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The Science Museum of London used 275 laser scans, yielding over 2 billion measurements, to create a “point cloud” map of their shipping galleries before closing them for good, to be replaced by a new “Information Age” exhibit. The scans will enable the Museum to create a detailed virtual tour of the old galleries, so the experience lives on in some form.
The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is selling limited edition 3D reproductions of selected paintings from its own collections (for about $34k). The museum also touts the reproductions’ ability to provide access for the visually impaired.
In May, Tony Butler reported from the MuseumNext conference, highlighting Oonagh Murphy’s report on the Newark Museum’s use of 3-D printers to help children engage with the museum, and technology, in a slow and meaningful way.
For a glimpse of where 3D printing is headed in the coming year, see this projection from SmartPlanet talking about the effect of several important patents expiring, fueling the development of cheaper high-quality 3D printers.
I’d love to hear how your museum is using 3D scanning and printing, whether for education, collections care, exhibit fabrication or research. Please share descriptions and links in the comments section, below.

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  1. Great overview. Thank you. Those who want to know more about Capturing Dinosaurs can go here and visit our booth at this September's Maker-Faire NYC.

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