Jul 27, 2018 | By Thomas

Materialise is currently realizing its largest SLA 3D printing project to date: a life-size, 3D-printed reconstruction of the first mammoth skeleton that was ever displayed in Western Europe.

The Lier mammoth, the skeleton of a mammoth that was found in 1860 near the Dungelhoeffkazerne in Lier in the Province of Antwerp of Belgium, has been on display at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels since then. Almost 150 years later, it is returning to its roots in Lier, where it will be displayed in 3D printed fashion beginning in October.

The skeleton is composed of 320 bones which have been scanned and digitally reconstructed. Next, the entire skeleton will be 3D printed by Materialise, in close collaboration with the museum in Brussels, and mounted on a quasi-invisible internal structure.

Reconstructing the mammoth presented a significant challenge for the Materialise engineers. Each bone was scanned at the museum in Brussels, and then the skeleton was digitally reconstructed in close collaboration with Dr. Mietje Germonpré, the resident paleontologist of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences who worked on the project with Materialise, to achieve the highest degree of anatomical accuracy.

Additionally, each scan also needed to be cleaned up and prepared for the 3D printer with Materialise Magics software, as scans don’t produce structurally sound 3D forms that are suitable for 3D printing.

Instead of using the original 19th century exterior mounting system, Materialise engineers also developed a more sophisticated interior mount structure made of carbon for the skeleton. While working in the digital phase, Materialise engineers had to think about how to fit the structure within the bones, and integrate entry and exit holes in the bones for the carbon tubes. For the modular carbon structure Materialise drew on the experience of its daughter company RapidFit in the automotive tooling. The result is a sturdy and lightweight structure that only weighs 300 kg.

“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,” said Gertjan Brienen, Project Manager at Materialise. “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 a part of the original bone structure. This means the 3D-printed mammoth will be more scientifically accurate than the original.”

The bones will be 3D printed on nine of Materialise’s Mammoth SLA 3D printers, which were specially designed to realize projects that require extra-large printer capacity (with a printer bed dimension of 220x70x80). It will take over a month for the mammoth to be 3D printed, as Materialise can only apply 1/10th of a millimeter of resin at a time. The 3D printed bones will then be finished, painted with a combination of different lacquers, paints, and textures to resemble the original skeleton.

“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," said Dr. Mietje Germonpré. "Working on the first entire mammoth skeleton ever to be 3D printed has been a unique experience.”



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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