WOODSTOCK - Students at Northern Illinois University’s Maker Space have made history, or rather, re-made history.
Using 3D printing, Mechanical Engineering students Matt McCoy of Downers Grove, Todd Durham of Genoa, and graduate Thomas Corbett of Genoa, partnered with the McHenry County Historical Society to design and print missing parts from artifacts in the historical society museum’s collection.
“Last fall I read an article about different ways museums are incorporating 3D printing and technology and I thought this was an interesting way to make the collection more available to the public,” said exhibits curator at the McHenry County Historical Society and Museum, Kira Stell. “We have partnered with NIU before so I reached out to Federico Sciammarella, the Associate Professor for Mechanical Engineering Students in the Maker’s Space Lab, in regards to donated objects that were missing parts or over time had been damaged.
"I told him I would like to replicate the missing pieces and put them on exhibit. We are trying to incorporate more technology in our exhibits and the way that we educate and interpret McHenry County History and this project fit nicely into that initiative.”
Located on the stage in the main exhibit hall, the six restored artifacts are on display and include a wooden rolling pin from 1920’s that had a missing handle, a sugar bowl from the 1870’s and one from 1898 that were missing lids, a small steel tack hammer from the 1930s that was missing the handle, and a Fisher Price Gabby Goofy pull toy from the 1960s that features a wooden mother duck with wooden baby ducks behind it, all of which were missing beaks. An entire tin candlestick holder from the 1830’s was fully replicated as part of the New Pioneer Exhibit.
The project began in January of this year and all 6 items were ready for the museum’s May 3 opening. The items were scanned and digitized and then the designs were created in CAD before the printing process took place. 3D printing is a layer by layer process, building a part from a digital model. 3D printing is an additive manufacturing process as it is used to create things that are usually impossible to manufacture with other manufacturing methods due to complex geometries.
A rising junior at NIU, McCoy said they were eager to take on the project as it was out of the ordinary as many of their other projects are more research-driven.
“We’re all interested in additive and this was a really cool way to focus on it. This was something we had never done before,” said McCoy. “It’s a really unique way to showcase the technology and allow the public to have access to the possibility of this type of additive manufacturing.”
The students enjoyed working on such a unique project, but it didn’t come without its challenges.
“The most challenging part of the project would be the usage of the 3D scanner. Our scanner was still fairly new to us as it had only been purchased in Fall 2018 and we started this project in the Spring 2019 semester,” said Durham. “This was our first project using the scanner so we definitely adapted and learned on how to scan the artifacts. Our previous scans were just simple objects to learn how to use the machine but these artifacts really taught us how scan a variety of objects.
"We had also never 3D printed something that we scanned before and that process of reverse engineering, taking a tangible object, modeling or scanning it, then modifying and/or creating it, is what makes this technology so great to work with!”
All of the pieces were replicated out of plastic and left unpainted to show the contrast between the original artifact and the restored pieces.
“For the goal in mind for the exhibit, we definitely wanted to show how artifacts aren’t donated complete. This was a good way to show what the actual artifacts would have looked like complete,” Stell said. “This incorporates the use of future technology and being able to contrast new and old is a nice avenue. You can tell they aren’t part of the artifact. I don’t think it takes away from any historical value with what we were trying to do with our exhibit and makes the collection more available for the public.”
All-in-all, Stell feels the project was a great success and would welcome future opportunities to work with NIU and their technology capabilities.
“We certainly have other artifacts that we could pull from the collection to repair or replicate for purchase in the store,” Stell said. “We could print more for outreach and take them out into the community where the public could touch, hold, and feel them. It’s a great way to bring history out into the world.”