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Additive Manufacturing Brings Dinosaurs to Life

By Roisin B McLaughlin  |  Submitted On August 20, 2012

Rapid Prototyping also known as Additive Manufacturing and 3D printing refers to the process of creating a solid object from a digital model, by joining materials, usually layer by layer. Over the past twenty years there has been an increase in the number of industries adopting this technology; perhaps the most novel of these is the recreating of one of history's giants, the dinosaur. Understanding movement with the help of 3D Printing. Palaeontologist Kenneth Lacovara has joined forced with James Tangorra, Mechanical engineer at Drexel University to apply Rapid Prototyping principles to the study of dinosaur movement and behaviour. Traditionally the study of dinosaur movement relied heavily on guesswork with scientists forced to physically manipulate dinosaur bones to assess most likely movement. In the case of giant dinosaurs such as the largest-known Sauropod dinosaur specimens this proves challenging due to the weight and size of the bones. Using 3D scanning technology Lacovara was able to generate 3D CAD data of the Sauropod bones, this data was then used to print scaled down replicas of the bones (retaining exact shape and proportions). It was also possible to digitally manipulate the models to account for changes due to fossilisation and compression. The team aim to create a working robotic dinosaur limb by the end of 2012 with a complete replica planned for 2014. While any robotic reconstructions will be speculative, it is impossible to study the real world movements of extinct creatures, creation of a robotic dinosaur would bring scientists and the public alike one step closer understanding one of history's giants. Leonardo, the one of a kind dinosaur brought to life by Ford. In 2008 Ford used its rapid prototyping know how to bring the world's most complete dinosaur mummy, nicknamed Leonardo, to life. Over the past 200 years, paleontologists have discovered thousands of dinosaur fossils, however only one is known to have had its entire body preserved both as a mummy and then a fossil making it one of the most significant paleontological discoveries in history. According to project manager Joe Lacuzzo the use of rapid prototyping was essential in preserving the dinosaur mummy; "Leonardo is a once in a lifetime discovery with skin, internal soft tissue and even intact stomach contents... if we would have had to create a typical mould and cast like we do with most dinosaur fossils, we could greatly have damaged him, especially his delicate skin". Technologists were able to take CT Scans on site at the Dinosaur Field Station where Leonardo was found, with these scans then used to create a highly accurate 3D model of Leonardo. The 3D data was then converted into a life-size physical prototype model crafted in engineered plastic using the Stereolithography process. Once completed the life-size model was then used for moulding and casting to create multiple clones which would give touch-and-feel displays while protecting the original fossil which is safely on display at the Great Plains Dinosaur Museum in Malta, Montana. Preserving fossils for future generations. Modern medical scanning techniques and 3D printing have also helped to avoid damage prehistoric mouldic fossils. When quarrymen discovered a hole in a block of red sandstone in a quarry near Elgin, they have realised they may have unearthed something of importance. What they had in fact discovered was the mould of fossil bone, created by the flow of acidic water through the sandstone, dissolving the bone to leave a void in the rock. Traditionally historians would have created moulds of fossil animals cast in rubber by filling the void and splitting the rock - ultimately destroying the mould. Eager to avoid damaging the Mouldic fossil, Dr Neil Clark from the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow opted for non-invasive techniques and modern mould making to recreate the fossil. Early CT scans revealed the remains as that of a Dicynodont. The team then employed MRI scanning techniques to create a more accurate 3D model image of the dinosaur skull. A 3D prototype model was then created using the Stereolithography process. Speaking on the project Dr Clark commented "The amount of detail here is absolutely phenomenal! The use of medical scanners and Stereolithography has saved a very important fossil from being damaged by traditional methods of paleontological investigations". As palaeontologists explore the applications of Rapid Prototyping within the study of dinosaurs perhaps we are closer than we think to a modern-day Jurassic Park!

Roisin McLaughlin is the Marketing Executive at Rapid Prototyping Bureau Laser Prototypes based in Belfast, Ireland. Laser Prototypes offers a range of rapid prototyping services including Stereolithography, Selective Laser Sintering, Reaction Injection Moulding and Vacuum Casting.


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