Feb 28, 2017 | By David

Police in Hong Kong intend to capitalise on the crime fighting potential of 3D printing technologies in order to prevent deaths and to bring criminals to justice. They will be making 3D printed models of crime scenes, to be used in their investigations, as well as trials and court inquests.

(credit: smcp.com)

Hong Kong’s police briefing support unit was established in 1988, and over the years it has built a total of 18 different scale models of buildings and aircrafts. These models provide a clear visualization of particular situations and the environments in which they took place. A fatal gun attack in Kowloon Bay in 2014, a hot air balloon crash in 2013, and a 2010 hostage situation on a bus in Manila are just three of the incidents whose investigations required the building of these scale models. According to Senior Inspector Chan Shun-wai, construction of a model by hand can take up to a week to complete. This process can now be greatly accelerated with the help of newly purchased 3D printers, which cost around HK $10,000 each.

3D printing will enable detailed rendering of the architecture of a particular location to be achieved much quicker than with manual labour, and this is a key advantage that Chan, an architectural studies graduate, recognizes. "We need printers to construct complex structures to show the accuracy of the architecture," he says. The example he cites is the deadly fire in Fa Yuen Street back in 2011, in which nine people tragically lost their lives. The investigation called for every building and street stall in the area to be reproduced faithfully in miniature. Because of the automation of the 3D printing process and its basis on computer assisted design, the time required to make such a large number of identical window and door frames could be drastically reduced.

As well as helping with investigations, the scale models that are produced by the briefing support unit also play a crucial role in the courtroom. They allow judges to better understand the layout of a crime scene, and the details of witnesses’ testimonies can be easily tested and examined. The unit also constructs models that are used by Hong Kong’s counterterrorism squad, in order to plan potential scenarios and provide information about incidents.


Although the benefits of using 3D technology for these situations appears obvious, Chan still has doubts about the extent to which it can replace manual craftsmanship. "The finished product made by the printer is simply a piece of plastic," he says, stressing the need for extra handiwork by human hands in order to perfectly recreate the material properties. His reservations are shared by head officer of the briefing support unit, Ku Chin-pang. Asked whether a 3D virtual reality computer image could work better than a real-life scale model, he questioned the ability of a witness to reliably recall their own position using only this non-physical representation.

Although these observations may be valid, it could be said that the current cost and complexity of 3D printing when used in such small-scale projects as this might be limiting the officers’ view of its potential applications. As printing becomes more and more accessible, and particularly as its use in combination with 3D scanning becomes a more viable option, the potential to build up detailed reconstructions of any situation or environment could be recognized. We may end up seeing the implementation of 3D technology in police work as an everyday occurrence, and this technology that we are so excited about will also be contributing quietly and tirelessly to keeping our streets safe.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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David del Fresno wrote at 3/9/2017 3:10:28 PM:

This is not new: FBI and Scotland Yard have been using 3D Printed models for Crime Scene Investigation since years.

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