Art & Sculpture

Dippy the dinosaur heads into 21st Century with 3D printing and scanning

The Natural History Museum (NHM) in London’s Diplodocus carnegii model is touring the UK, and it will be accompanied by two 3D printed replicas of its skull.

The two 3D printed resin models of Dippy, as the dinosaur is affectionately known, were 3D printed by Laser Prototypes Europe (LPE), a rapid prototyping service bureau based in Northern Ireland. 

Four 3D printed resin replicas of Dippy's skull. Photo via NHM.
Four 3D printed resin replicas of Dippy’s skull. Photo via NHM.

Dippy goes on Tour

The Dippy in London is not an original dinosaur skeleton, but a to-scale plaster-of-Paris cast of a fossil at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Plaster casts, however, have their drawbacks. Alex Ball, Head of Imaging and Analysis at the Museum explained to NHM news:

“The old way of making models of specimens was by producing a mold of the surface and then making a cast…but molding from original materials can be risky. If you get any material from the mold stuck anywhere on the surface you risk damage to the object, and you will potentially create an inaccurate replica.”

After greeting visitors to London’s NHM since 1905, Dippy was replaced in 2017 by Hope, the 25.2 meter long skeleton of a 20-year-old blue whale.

When the decision was made for Dippy to go on tour across the UK, the NHM decided to create eight replicas of the dinosaur’s skull for research and education purposes.

“Laser scanning and 3D printing are very safe ways to create models of original specimens,” Ball continued, “Laser scanning never touches the object so it eliminates that risk.”

A member of the Barrett Lab with a 3D printed replica of Dippys skull. Photo via NHM
A member of the Barrett Lab with a 3D printed replica of Dippys skull. Photo via NHM.

A 21st century dinosaur

The museum originally purchased a FARO 3D ScanArm in 2017 as part of a project to digitize the skeleton of Hope the blue whale. 3D scanning and 3D printing were used to virtually plan Hope’s diving lunge feeding display position, and to repair some of the blue whale’s fragile flipper bones.

Once the work on Hope was complete, researchers at the NHM’s Barrett Lab 3D scanned Dippy’s skull to create a high-resolution 3D model, which has been made public.

To make the physical replicas, the NHM sent scan data to Belfast 3D printing service bureau LPE. The replicas were manufactured in a single piece out of lightweight, durable resin on LPE’s 3D Systems SLA machines.

They skulls were coloured black like the original and weigh 3 kg. LPE’s Campbell Evans commented:

‘This process was perfect for recreating the complex, freeform shape of Dippy’s skull, giving an exact copy of the scanned data.”

“The project was a really interesting one for LPE, as much of our work is for electronic housings, covers, connectors, and everyday engineering components,” Evans added.

3D model of Dippy’s by NHM_Imaging on Sketchfab

Walking again with dinosaurs

Of the eight 3D printed replica skulls, five will be used by the Real World Science partner institutions for education, and one will remain in London for research. The remaining two will accompany Dippy on tour, allowing visitors to have a closer, hands-on look, and giving visually impaired audiences to examine the dinosaur more closely.

3D scanning has also played an important part in academic paleontology research, with researchers from South Africa recreating the skull of aMassospondylus carinatus dinosaur (from the same sub-order as a Diplodocus) with 3D scanning.

Dippy is currently on display at the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester (part of the UK’s Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site) and will tour museums across the UK until October 2020.

Let us know what you think the best application of 3D scanning or 3D printing has been this year. Make your nominations for the 3D Printing Industry Awards 2018 now.

For more stories on 3D scanning applications, subscribe to our free 3D Printing Industry newsletter, follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

Featured image shows NHM staff member Kate Burton 3D scanning the skull of Dippy. Photo via NHM.