3D Print Application Idea: On Demand Museum Pieces?

By on August 28th, 2017 in Ideas

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 Could museum pieces be 3D printed on demand?
Could museum pieces be 3D printed on demand?

I’m always interested to see new applications of 3D printing, and have one that may not have been implemented yet. 

The idea is “on demand museum pieces”. The idea leverages the unique collections of museums and galleries, which, if you think about it, are actually like a physical repository of 3D models in physical form. 

Today “access” to those “3D models” is typically done by physically visiting the museum or gallery and paying a fee along the way. Museums and galleries typically defend their intellectual property, the pieces, vigorously by preventing any attempt to digitally remove them. 

This is sometimes manifested as “no photographs” and certainly “no 3D scanning”, although I have yet to see a sign actually saying that. 

You’ll leave the institution with fond memories of your favorite work, unless a replica was purchased in the inevitable gift shop. Of course, the only replicas available will be for the few most popular items, and the one you want will not be available. 

The answer could be onsite 3D printing.

Here’s the concept: the museum or gallery maintains a set of 3D models for all or most of their works. In the gift shop (or even at a kiosk somewhere inside the visitor areas), an art lover can select any model they desire and order a 3D print on demand. 

Behind the scenes, a high-resolution 3D printer fires up and quickly produces the desired item. The object can be picked up shortly thereafter, and the museum or gallery gains a sale they would not otherwise have made. 

The challenge to this is that the speed of 3D printing may be thought to be too slow. While 3D printers can indeed be very slow, recent desktop SLA machines have dramatically sped up printing operations. Combine that with a constrained size and you might be able to print smaller 3D models rather quickly – within the wait time tolerance of visitors. “Get a free coffee with your 3D print purchase at our restaurant; come back here to pick the print when you’re finished the drink.”

Of course this would require some training by facility staff in order to operate the machine, but I really don’t think that should be an issue as the software interface and physical hardware on at least some machines is quite good and capable of being learned easily. 

If the price of the equipment was not too high, and the cost of material was reasonable, it’s possible this could be a profitable activity for the institution. 

For visitors, it could be an amazing experience, being able to select ANYTHING they saw during their visit and printing it out. It’s like accessing the “long tail” of the museum or gallery. 

But probably the key barrier to this actually happening is going to be the reluctance of institutions to adopt modern concepts such as 3D printing, and their habit of over-protecting their intellectual property.  

By Kerry Stevenson

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has written over 8,000 stories on 3D printing at Fabbaloo since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!