I have played with 3D printing in the past – I helped my son make a dollhouse clock in Sketch-up, which a friend then printed, and at Maker-Faire this year I used an iPad app to doodle the AMNH logo and send it to a printer – but it was not until this past month that I really threw myself into the entire process.
To learn some new tools, I happened to come across a small monkey skull in our education collections. The collection is made up of some 15,000 objects, all organized in drawers. If I need to run a youth program on scorpions, for example, I can check some out (dead, of course). So when I saw this monkey skull I thought it might be a good demo object. And it was.
First I used the free 123D Catch on my iPhone to make the 3D photo. It did not work the first time, due to poor connectivity, but the second time, which took about 5-10 minutes of work, it came out great. I use it now as my example and people get it right away. After taking about 30 or so photos, the app sent the photos to some server which then sowed them together and spit them back to my phone. I use one or two fingers now to spin it around in all directions, as well as zoom in (my favorite is zooming into the empty eye sockets).
From the 123D Catch web site I was able to download a .stl file of the model – not just a 3D image but, and I am not sure of the correct words here, the physical model of the object I photographed transferred into digital data. I downloaded Meshmixer, also free, so I could open the model on my Mac and manipulate it.
Once in the program I could delete unwanted elements, like the paper the skull had been sitting on, click on the identified buttons that pointed to glitches that would prevent it from being 3D printed, and then sliced the part I wanted to make the flat stand so I could place it down. Once I learned the tool, it took about 30 minutes. Then I returned to 123D Catch which suggested a number of 3D printing companies. I choose Sculpteo. Once I uploaded the new .stl file the web site gave me all sorts of options – for size, color, material, etc. – and once I was done I gave it my address and credit card information (and $90).
Then I waited a week for it to come in the mail.
And today it arrived:
I think I am in love.
So what do I think we can do with 3D modeling and printing in our educational programs? And what might happen when we can print things ourselves, on site, on demand?
Watch this space in a few weeks for more information. Until then, go get 123D Catch and make your own 3D photos!