Dec 18, 2017 | By David

A collaboration between Zhejiang University and the Shanxi Yungang Grottoes Research Institute has used 3D printing technology to recreate part of the largest cave in China’s historic Yungang Grottoes, which is known as the "Lingyan Temple". This is the first time 3D printing has been used in a project to duplicate artefacts on such a large scale. The Yungang Grottoes, located in Datong, Shanxi Province, have a history of more than 1,500 years. There are 45 major existing caves, with 51,000 statues of varying sizes. The Grottoes is one of the largest cave systems in China, and it was listed as a World Heritage Site in 2001.

3D printed replica of Buddha statue

The cave replica was officially opened on December 12, and it has an overall length of 17.9 meters, and is 13.6 meters wide by 10 meters high. The detailed reconstruction boasts magnificent and beautifully carved statues, as well as a complete set of grottoes. Visitors can enjoy the rich contents of grotto art, ancient architecture, time-weathered caves as well as appreciating the protection of cultural relics. According to Associate Professor Diao Changyu of Zhejiang University Cultural Heritage Research Institute, ''the reconstruction of the west back chamber of Cave 3 of Lingyan Temple was a 2 year project, and it marks (our country’s achievements in terms of) technological breakthroughs in digital protection and inheritance and utilization of cultural heritage.’’

In the front of the art gallery are Amitabha, Avalokiteshvara and Mahāsthāmaprāpta, three Buddha statues. The Lord Buddha Amitabha is 10 meters high, with the two other Buddhas either side being around 6 meters high. Researchers were able to rebuild a colored three-dimensional model of Cave 3 using a combination of 3D laser scanning technology and multi-image three-dimensional reconstruction, and around 10,000 photos of the caves were collected for the task. The spacing of sampling points in 3D space is less than 2 mm, the overall 3D reconstruction error was kept at less than 5 mm, and the texture image sampling resolution was often as high as 150 dpi. After the high-fidelity color three-dimensional model of the grottoes was completed, researchers then used a high-precision 3D printer to replicate the artifacts in physical form.

3D Printed Buddha statue

"We used 20 sets of large-scale 3D printers in synchronous production, (the process) lasted a year, and we produced a total of 842 pieces" said Changyu. These 3D printed parts were then assembled, and went through post-processing including filling with foam, patchwork and other methods. "Because of the large volume, (and the fact that) every part has to be reinforced, this is a test of technology processes. (In total) 10 tons of support structure was used."

The on-site assembly construction lasted 3 months. "This is the first large-scale relic project to use 3D printing in the world, marking a breakthrough in material strength, block assembly and engineering installation of large-scale stone artifacts in China," Changyu said.


Using 3D printing and material to reproduce the texture of stone remains a challenge, and it is something that is in constant development in these kinds of projects. According to Changyu, the team made use of a special spray paint combined with automatic color technology, to produce a realistic yellow sandstone texture. Afterwards the artists from Yungang Grottoes Institute of Art completed the details with color, and the color reproduction degree of the statues is over 90% accurate.

Original Buddha statue

3D Printed Buddha statue

Visitors to the replica cave were amazed at the authenticity of the statues, with some saying they couldn’t tell that these were not the originals. According to Zhang Zhuo, the dean of the Yungang Grottoes Research Institute, further reproduction works of Cave 12 and Cave 18 of the Yungang Grottoes are currently underway.




Posted in 3D Printing Application



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