We’re reminded that another academic year is about to begin in the UK not when the geese fly south or the leaves begin to turn but when we get the call to up sticks for our annual day out at the TCT Show in Birmingham. This is the UK’s definitive laser scanning, 3D printing and general digital-to-real-stuff-and-back-again exhibition event, so this week we headed off to meet old friends and see what’s new and exciting in the world of digital 3D. We always go with the intention of seeing what we can bring back to the HLF funded community heritage groups and other organizations that we work with and this year was particularly interesting as there are a number of low cost developments which will interest many of them. First up amongst these was a development by MCor Technologies in adding colour printing to their 3D paper printer. We got one of their Matrix 300 printers a couple of years ago to print 3D models out of plain sheets A4 white paper. The machine takes a normal 3D digital model and slices it up horizontally, so far so normal. What then happens is the cool bit, the machine takes a really (and I mean really) sharp blade a bit like a scalpel and cuts out each slice on a piece of paper, it layers the paper up gluing them as it goes. When it’s fished you take the block of paper out and peel away that bits that have been cut off to reveal the solid and complete model underneath. It’s actually one of the very first 3D printing technologies that was developed but is really good for doing curvy surfaces like faces and landscapes. The main thing is that because it uses normal paper it’s a relatively cheap process. As usual we’ve been using ours to print white models which we sometimes spray up with colour. Now MCor have added colour printing to the edge where it cuts out the paper, meaning that it can now print colour models. It doesn’t print each whole sheet just the edge at the cut that will be exposed in the finished model.
Next up we have to say that there’s been an explosion of interest over the past couple of years in home and school 3D printing. Creative sectors such as art and design, fashion, architecture and the maker movement are now waking up to the exciting possibilities afforded by additive manufacturing and 3D printing at all levels. Machines are getting cheaper by the week, you can assemble your own from a kit or buy ones fully ready for a few hundred pounds. Of course you get what you pay for but the trend is very clear, 3D printing is going domestic. The professional level of 3D printing is also developing fast with incredible advances in metal and plastic printing so it’s an exciting time to see how these technologies can be brought to bear on heritage applications. Finally we can’t go to TCT and not catch up with Neil Barnett of Faro UK Ltd and his colleagues. Faro produce the large scale laser scanners which we use to scan historic buildings and their support for groups like ours using their equipment is second to none. The guys came back from TCT this week brimming with new ideas and I have to say a lot of samples and brochures which I suspect will form the basis of some of their Christmas present wish lists! And why not.