Preserving and recreating an Illinois library’s 19th-century brass shelf brackets with Artec Space Spider

24/12/2020

By Loretta Marie Perera

When Eastern Iowa Community Colleges in Davenport, Iowa began to include Additive Manufacturing in one of their programs, new doors and a new way to work opened up to them.

“In the program I teach, we are focused on providing local industries with entry-level-or-above modeling technicians. Our program has changed recently to include Additive Manufacturing,” said Brad McConnell, Solid Modeling/Additive Manufacturing Instructor.

One of the recreated shelves, true to the original

“One of the technical skills we emphasize for our additive area is 3D scanning,” he explained. “We take artifacts and/or parts, scan them, and then create additive parts from the scans.”

While McConnell pointed out that Additive Manufacturing is typically known for prototyping and short-run production, he sees it as having many more uses, from art to personalized consumer items to the preservation of objects. One of these other uses came into play when he and his team were called on to preserve one priceless part of an old library that was on the verge of being lost forever.

The part in question here is an ornate brass casting from a 19th-century, Carnegie Foundation-era library shelf. “In Geneseo, Illinois in the 1850s, the town was granted funding to build a town library,” McConnell said, referring to the original library for which the parts were first created. “Several years ago the town built a new library, but wanted to create some shelving for fundraising using parts of shelves left from the old library.”

“Of the old, ornate brass castings from the original library shelving, only one remained.”

The original parts were manufactured by Carnegie Manufacturing in the late 1800s.

With their new Additive Manufacturing module at the university, McConnell and his students were well-equipped to find a solution. To properly complete these tasks, there was a critical need for accuracy and the utmost attention to detail. Their scanner of choice? Artec Space Spider.

A high-resolution 3D scanner with blue-light technology, the Space Spider is ideal for capturing small objects and the fine details of larger objects. Offering high accuracy and brilliant color, Space Spider takes on complex geometry, sharp edges, and parts that are typically difficult to capture. From human ears to industrial parts, Space Spider makes an excellent scanning solution, used on its own or in combination with another Artec 3D scanner.

“My students and I were able to scan the brass bracket in order to at least have a digital file of it,” said McConnell. “We scanned that as well as another item used for the shelves, and then printed several.”

A new, freshly-printed part, ready for cleanup (left). The original brass bracket (center). A new tidied up part, following 3D printing on an SLA printer and processing (right).

Capturing highly accurate and authentic scan data initially required some trial and error for McConnell and his team. “I realized that increasing the light setting as well as sensitivity allowed for better scanning,” he said. “After leaving the sensitivity at a fairly low level and increasing the light level, the scans were more accurate. I also found that getting only two large accurate scans was better than several scans, and easier to align, too.” He added, “Any other parts will be a breeze!”

After being aligned and processed in Artec Studio, the digitally preserved parts were then printed on SLA and FFF machines.

With the part now scanned and printed for various uses such as preservation, fundraising, and to contribute to the history of the original library, the team is looking forward to creating sand molds of the 3D-printed versions with the intention of bringing to life a few precious pieces made of brass or bronze, or for inexpensive steel or iron alternatives.

“So far I have recreated approximately 200 of the shelves at no cost to the library, all of which were sold for $40.00 each,” McConnell said.

A newly created shelving unit made from 3D models of the original parts

With this project, McConnell and his students found a solution that was formerly not possible. “Previous methods would include your typical shop measurement tools: Micrometers, scales, calipers, and so on,” he said. “The Space Spider allowed us to measure parts with organic shapes that were difficult, if not impossible, before.”

And the work done here is only the beginning. “We have also been asked to conduct a 3D printing and scanning demo at our local library,” said McConnell, who also works with local high and middle schools. “Our library and local businesses are on board.”