For my final project in our Digital History course, I decided to set the bar high and tackle what I saw as the final frontier of the technological learning curve: 3D printing. It was something I’d always wanted to do but had never had access to the right resources,and I was very glad to find that looking into potential objects to reproduce was my biggest challenge (or so I thought). We learned a lot this semester about making copies of museum artifacts that visitors can engage with in more immersive ways than the originals, and I thought it would be nice to create something for my local museum. I ultimately decided to go with a metal maple syrup spigot (pictured above).
In the beginning, I thought I would create a digital 3D model using photogrammetry that I would then magically send to the printer, but the process proved to be much more complicated than that! I was so fortunate to receive some expert advice in an informal workshop in the digital history lab with my colleague Martha, who was also using photogrammetry to create a 3D model. She showed me how to set up the system using a rotating chair as a base with a few empty cardboard boxes stacked on the seat in order to raise the subject and enable us to spin around to get shoot every angle. We made sure the top boxes on which the spigot sat were black so that we could easily remove them from the final shots, and also taped up some black bristol board behind the chair to cover up the lighter wall behind it. Then came the camera setup: we used a Panasonic DMCGX Lumix camera with a 1442 lens on a tripod angled at the subject facing slightly downward in order to include the top of the spigot.
I took a photo at each turn of the chair, about two centimeters each movement, which totaled thirty-three photos. After doing this and benefitting from seeing Martha’s more developed work in progress, I started to think about how I was going to go about printing the model based on the photos. I wasn’t sure about my access to a printer at Western, but miraculously remembered that the Aylmer Old Town Hall Public Library has a maker space with a 3D printer and scanner. The new mission became a road trip to Aylmer for a crash course in printing, and I decided to base my project on a comparison between the physical print using a 3D scanner and the digital model using photogrammetry. You can view the model here!
Once again, I was so lucky to have help from a fantastic assistant at the library who showed me how to use the MakerBot Digitizer and Replicator. We did a scan of the spigot using cardboard box lids to block out the light from the Digitizer, examined the digital scan to make sure everything was intact, and set the Replicator to its work. The print time was set for three hours, and it cost sixty cents. I decided to leave the printer to its work and had a nice little Elgin County adventure in the meantime.
When I returned to the library that evening, I noticed that the staff member I had been working with was no longer present, and the printer was at about ninety-five percent complete. The final product looked quite satisfactory and I was intrigued by the sounds the printer was making as well as seeing the process at play. Once the percentage was at about ninety-seven percent, however, I started to notice that something had gone awry. I could see the beginnings of the supports at the top of the spigot, and the printer was moving back and forth as though it was completing each layer of the hook, but no filament was coming out. Since I was unaware of how it was supposed to be completing this unusual part of the print, and my trusty assistant was no longer available, I decided to just wait it out. After a few minutes, there seemed to be a ball of clogged plastic forming, and it eventually began to drip haphazardly onto the partially-formed spigot below. At this point, I sought a library employee to have the printer examined, and was worried that the print would be ruined after so much time had passed. The librarian immediately stopped the print and opened the sides of the printer to take out the replica, and when she did, the entire printer itself collapsed from the top and very nearly missed smashing it on the platform. Slightly disappointed but still glad to have some result from the process, I bid Aylmer farewell.
Overall, I’m still quite happy with my first foray into 3D reproduction. I feel that the issues that arose during the printing process could not have been foreseen and weren’t my own fault, so there is hope to try again and hopefully achieve the museum-quality product I was hoping for. The result of the photogrammetry was quite satisfactory, better than I’d expected, and I do think that it is worthwhile to explore printing with that method even though it requires some extra steps. The project caused me to experience two things that haven’t been a part of my academic career up until this point but are equally welcomed and important: asking for help and embracing failure, and I think that I’m a better student for it in this case! Many thanks to Martha, the staff at the Aylmer Public Library, and our professor, Tim Compeau for their assistance and encouragement!
Thanks for reading,