Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Guest Blog - Comparing some 3D printers with GB3D fossils

3D Printing Fossils from the GB3D Type Fossils Online Database

Guest Blog by Cris Fowers, www.whiteclouds.com

The GB3D Type Fossils Online project perfectly demonstrates the potential of 3D scanning and 3D printing technologies that will benefit professionals, professors, students, and fossil enthusiasts. The huge advantage to having a database of downloadable 3D fossils is that now anyone from anywhere in the world can not only view a high definition image, but also 3D print a fossil replica. And the fossil can be downloaded and printed by as many people who want it.

The ability to study a physical object that you can hold, touch, and turn in your hands far surpasses looking at an image alone. It becomes a tangible study aid.

If you can, imagine a classroom where students have instant access to thousands of fossils that are stored in an archive on the other side of the world. This scenario can be applied to many sciences, not just paleontology. I see this as the beginning to more databases of downloadable objects in the future that will further education and research.      

I was curious to see how the downloaded files would print. In our lab here at WhiteClouds, I printed the apoderoceras mutatum (Simpson) fossil (Fossil specimen: BGS GSM26406 – Holotype) on four different 3D printers, using four different materials, to see how the models compared. I used the MakerBot Replicator 2, Stratasys Mojo, ZPrinter 650, and the ProJet 3500 HDMax. Here are the results of each print:

MakerBot Replicator 2
Technology: Fused Filament Fabrication
Material: PLA (natural color)

Overall, the print turned out well with fairly good detail. I printed the model with a raft and supports which were necessary to print this fossil. A downside to using the MakerBot is the support material was a little difficult to remove and left some marks on the back of the fossil. However, the MakerBot’s model provides an overall good representation of the fossil.

I would recommend printing in a non-transparent color. The transparency of the natural colored filament makes it more difficult to see the fine details in the fossil. It also allows you to see the inside fill pattern, especially under bright lights. 

Stratasys Mojo
Technology: Fused Filament Fabrication
Material: ABS

The Stratasys Mojo also uses fused filament fabrication technology but prints with ABS filament. The detail of the Mojo’s model was slightly better than that of the MakerBot’s. That might be attributed to the opaque material. The big advantage to printing a fossil on a commercial ABS printer, like the Mojo, Fortus, or UPrint, is the support material is soluble. This is beneficial because the model won’t have any defects caused by removing the support material.

I printed the fossil in standard white and it printed nicely.  

ZPrinter 650
Technology: Binder Jetting
Material: Sandstone-like (multi-color)

The ZPrinter 650 prints in a material that feels like a smooth sandstone and it prints in full-color. The finished product is almost fossil-like. This, in my opinion, produced the most accurate model. The colors matched almost perfectly with the image of the original fossil and the detail is amazing. Because of how the binder jetting technology works, defects because of the support material isn’t an issue.

The one drawback to fossils printed with the ZPrinter is they are more fragile. If you were to drop the model on a hard surface, there’s a good chance it will break or chip.   

ProJet 3500 HDMax
Technology: Multi-jet Modelling
Material: UV-Cured Resin

I also printed the fossil on a ProJet 3500 HDMax by 3D Systems. Of the four printers I used, this one has the highest resolution. The detail is best on this model; you are able to see even the fine cracks in the fossil. However, because of the transparency of the material, it is harder to see the detail in the fossil.

The support material on the ProJet melts away, leaving the surface touching the support material undamaged.

Overall, I was very happy with the results on all of the printers. These fossils are a treasure, and through modern technologies, can be enjoyed by people around the globe. 

Cris Fowers


  1. What is the approximate cost of each print? Assuming that the person tending the printer is on a fixed rate (say 10 pounds/hour)?

    1. The main cost in printing the fossils is in materials. Once the print is setup, we don’t really tend the machines. Especially the commercial machines. We even leave them printing overnight. I do check on the MakerBot occasionally to ensure the print is going well.

      The setup time is minimal—between 5 and 10 minutes. The ZPrinter and the MakerBot prints required some post-processing. We spent about 10 minutes post-processing the fossils created on each of these printers. The Mojo and Projet prints do post process, but it’s just a matter of moving the fossil from the printer to the post-processing machine and then taking it out when it’s done.

      Here’s a time/cost break-down for each printer:
      MakerBot - Setup Time: 5 min. | Post Process Time: 10 min. | Material Cost: $0.38

      Mojo - Setup Time: 5 min. | Post Process Time: 2 min. | Material Cost: $16.95

      Projet - Setup Time: 5 min. | Post Process Time: 2 min. | Material Cost: $16.95

      ZPrinter - Setup Time: 5 min. | Post Process Time: 10 min. | Material Cost: $7.95

      Please note, the Mojo isn’t the most cost-effective ABS printer we have. We could have saved money printing the fossil on the UPrint or Fortus.

      Cris Fowers

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