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dadrummond

3D printing fossil data

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Runner64

Prompted by recent discussions of 3D printing fossils, I want to start a topic for it. As ZiggieCie points out, 3D printing will have an increasing impact on the fossil world.

The recent publication of the discovery of Homo naledi, accompanied by 86 3D-printable bone specimens, surely marks an inflection point in the scientific sharing of 3D fossil data. Popular sites describe how to print your own H. naledi fossils. Folks have shared prints of their own. Below is a 3D print from the authors of the study.

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Here on TFF, Cris himself has explored using photogrammetry to generate 3D data for a whale vertebra. (Photogrammetry is the use of photographs to make measurements, particularly precise distance measurements between surface points.)

That prompts the question: can anything for which we have 3D data be 3D printed?

The answer is: not without significant work. 3D viewable data and 3D printable data are very different. You can view 3D data that's pure fantasy. Consider a geometrically ideal plane with mathematically zero thickness. Easy to view on a computer screen. Quite impossible to produce in reality. And 3D printing is all about reality. The key idea is that, to 3D print an object, it must be a solid three-dimensional object that is watertight. Technically, it must be manifold: every object must be composed of polygons that share each edge with exactly one other polygon.

box_thicknesses.png

Non-manifold objects can't be 3D printed. The 3D printing site Shapeways has a detailed tutorial on fixing non-manifold models. From personal experience, I can say that fixing manifold issues, even with models designed for 3D printing that have gone off the rails, can be a tremendous pain.

Tools are getting better for fixing non-manifold models. At this stage in the development of the technology, it's still critical to know what manifold objects are. So for Cris's photogrammetry data, it can be visualized easily, but for 3D printing, it's a big deal that the bottom of the whale vertebra wasn't scanned. The model just ends in midair, meaning it's not manifold, and can't be 3D printed without repair work.

Hope to hear more from others who have tried 3D printing. I've posted a topic on 3D printing a trilobite sculpture -- not fossil data -- which may also be helpful if you've never seen a 3D print being made before.

A thorough and well informed post on 3-D printing, thanks for sharing! This surely will have a great impact on paleontology.

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Triceratops

Very interesting and informative, thanks for taking the time and writing this.

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ZiggieCie

Great information, I'm glad you came back with this vital information on this interesting and new technology. There are other 3D photos of fossil bones that are fully displayed/enclosed, would that make a difference, or still two very different concepts?

THX for the info

Ziggie

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dadrummond

There are other 3D photos of fossil bones that are fully displayed/enclosed, would that make a difference, or still two very different concepts?

Having all the geometry will help. The question is whether that geometry is manifold, per the initial post, as well as a few other features (like structural soundness). I haven't yet tried fiddling with people's geometry to evaluate this. My impression is that the increasing availability of 3D printing, and its obvious connection to 3D scanning techniques, provides strong pressure for the scanning software to produce manifold models.

Manifold models may still be unprintable for other reasons, such as features smaller than the printer's resolution, structures that collapse under their own weight, structures that break too easily during postprocessing steps, and so on. At 3D printing firms like Shapeways, which prints thousands of different designs uploaded from users, there are layers of automated and manual checks before prints are even attempted. A productive way to look at 3D scanning is that it's a semi-automated way to "design" pieces for printing. As such, a range of checks and repairs will almost certainly need to be done before printing. At least with today's technology.

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Auspex

The results of this new technology are a powerful tool for understanding, and the art is still in its infancy!

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ZiggieCie

The results of this new technology are a powerful tool for understanding, and the art is still in its infancy!

I agree. This is something our young people should be getting into, because this will be huge in the future in many fields. Hey guys V99 and othere that are interested in getting into Paleontology, learn this and be ahead of the curve. You want something extra to get your foot in the door; this is it.

Making molds and casts of fossils will soon be old school, this is the future, now!

I'm 63, I can learn it for me as an addition to my hobby, you guy's and gal's in your teens and early 20's, I would be jumping in on this with both feet.

NOW!

Edited by ZiggieCie

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FossilHunter99

Interesting.....

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TNCollector

Thanks for the info! I own a 3D printer, mostly for engineering stuff, but it looks like fossils could be my next thing to print :D

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krugz

This is fantastic! I'm really amazed at the results you have produced with regards to the trilobites.

I am in fact one of the people who created and printed the H. naledi skull reconstruction you have at the top of this post. All specimens we have put online, for free download, at morphosource were laser scanned. I have been testing a number of other methods of 3D data acquisition such photogrammetry and white-light source scanning.

An amazing product of 3D scanning, reconstruction and printing is the ability to send this data around the world, and share results with fellow scientists, as well as the public!

A number of new techniques with regards to 3D data acquisition of H. naledi, the Dinaledi chamber (the chamber where H. naledi was discovered) and the Rising Star Cave system (the cave in which the Dinaledi chamber is found) will be made public very soon!

3D work of this kind is really in its infancy and I'm sure we will all be amazed in the near future with work such as yours! Well done on the trilobites!

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