There is no such thing as a free lunch. And there isn’t anything like an unlimited museum budget either. When the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in Honolulu wanted to launch a brand new, interactive NASA themed exhibit, they knew that figuring out how to make the most with the least was going to be key to the move from exhibit dreams to exhibit reality. Luckily, museum staff are known for their creativity and innovative thinking.
That’s why, when they realized they wanted to include models of 13 of NASA’s advanced Earth-observing satellites, complete with appropriate land/space-scapes, they immediately recognized the possibilities provided by 3D printing. Instead of ordering the models from the Philippines, their normal go-to for these kinds of projects, and spending $300 per model, they invested in a 3D printer and produced the models themselves.
What many people misunderstand about 3D printing is the ease with which it can be performed. It requires technical knowledge, creative thinking, and a stubborn resistance to failure. Luckily, these attributes come together in the person of Michael Wilson, the museum’s Exhibit Designer. He has his own makerspace cave in which to formulate his creations, complete with a FlashForge Creator Pro 3D printer, Matter and Form 3D scanner, MakerBot software and a computer. Wilson explained how the use of 3D printing assisted him as a designer on a budget:
“This is a perfect use for 3D printing. All the object files are available from NASA. They need to be scaled for miniature replicas and each of the parts separately 3D printing, painted and assembled. But this could be done for a lot less money.”
But it’s not always about saving money, or rather it’s never only about the money. The Bishop Museum is also committed to providing hands-on educational experiences for its visitors. The interactive exhibits require pieces that are both durable and cost effective, something at which 3D printing excels. One such exhibit is a board game called Elepaio: Circle of Life that is designed to walk users through a native forest ecosystem. With the ability to reproduce pieces or make adjustments to the game in house, the museum can handle the demands placed on it by inquiring minds.
Bishop isn’t alone in realizing the potential that 3D printing holds for museums, not only in terms of budget but in their general mission to engage an audience while educating it. Museum collections worldwide are becoming more accessible as supporting material is easier to generate. In addition, many museums use the technology to create accurate copies of items that would otherwise be unavailable for interaction, allowing for tactile exploration and up close examination of objects in their collections. Wilson is confident that 3D printing will continue to play a role in achieving the museum’s mission:
“The future of 3D printing at Bishop Museum is to actively engage our visitors by scanning and printing cultural and natural artifacts, allowing for deeper interactions and participation.”
Whether on the scale of the native forest or that of the space missions, 3D printing seems to fit the bill just perfectly.
[Source: Honolulu Civil Beat / Images: Burt Lum/Civil Beat]