Feb. 20, 2015 | By Simon

Although many might associate 3D scanning and 3D printing technologies with “crafting the future”, perhaps one of the best applications for new 3D technology has actually been in preserving the past.

Despite some legal roadblocks that have popped up sporadically over the past few years, the ability to 3D scan, preserve and ultimately, replicate a piece of history is something that is without a doubt one of the best uses for the technologies.

Recently, designers at Studio Fathom, an Oakland, California-based company focused on advanced technology with an expertise in 3D printing and additive manufacturing, have teamed up with other San Francisco-area companies to recreate the famous Pietà sculpture by Michelangelo - along with 27 other works from art preservationists Renaissance Masters.

Through the partnership - which also includes metal casting company Artworks Foundry and 3D scanning company Scansite - a limited edition of flawless reproductions of Michelangelo’s artwork are being recreated from nearly halfway around the world.  The combination of all three companies’ specialities will create one of the most sophisticated replication projects ever completed.  

While sculptors have been using the same proven metal casting techniques for centuries, the combination of 3D scanning and 3D printing offers a more accurate and sustainable way of reproducing the classics.  

“Now we have the facility to be able to reproduce something that is very faithful to the original,” said Piero Mussi, who founded the Artworks Foundry over 35 years ago, “and that’s something that’s never been done in the past.”

After 40 years of using lost wax casting - which he learned from metalworking masters in Italy - Mussi sees the combination of 3D scanning and 3D printing as one of the most notable developments in centuries.  Although Mussi has stood by his traditional methods of manufacturing, the ability to preserve details and reproduce them using the 3D technology has pushed him to become a believer.  

“We get a reproduction that is really good,” said Mussi. “No artist can do it. Only the technology can do it.”

As for how the three businesses are working together, Scansite is responsible for gathering the scan data from the original casting before processing the data into point clouds and 3D models.  Once they have completed the final files, they are handed off to Fathom who then use 3D printing to create the models using an Objet500 Connex (PolyJet Technology) in VeroBlue or VeroClear.  Once the models have been 3D printed, they are handed off to Musi and the Artworks Foundry which use the models to make wax molds. The wax molds are finally used in a lost wax casting process to recreate the bronzes - a process that’s been unchanged for over a thousand years despite being currently used with modern 3D scanning and 3D printing technologies.  

Although we’ve been seeing everything from Microsoft Kinect and eye-tracking devices that can be used for 3D modeling and 3D printing, it’s nice to see how these same technologies can also be used to preserve elements of history that can be preserved for future generations to enjoy.  

“For more than 500 years, Michelangelo’s marble sculpture Pietà has been housed in St. Peter’s Basilica,” said Studio Fathom.  

“Across the Atlantic Ocean and the entirety of the United States, identical bronze castings now exist in Berkeley, California thanks to the blended use of advanced manufacturing technologies. The accuracy of the replicas is unprecedented.”

Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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Artworks Foundry wrote at 12/2/2016 5:49:10 AM:

the final bronze was done by Artworks Foundry. Ownership of the copyright was acquirer by undisclosed gentlemen by the Buonarotti family.

anym8r wrote at 2/25/2015 9:31:19 PM:

You raise an interesting point about ownership and copyright. I wonder?

spex wrote at 2/24/2015 5:17:29 PM:

Do they now own these 3d scans of these iconic public domain works?

Loves to Drive wrote at 2/22/2015 12:10:15 AM:

The humorous part is, some one had tried to do this before and some college made a royal stink about it. Now this art work is out there. Wonder if the college will get their panties in a bind over something that isnt theirs again.

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