Software Bringing the past to life

Editor: Steffen Donath

Polygonica was challenged with creating a model based on 3D scans of a severely damaged 17th century flute. Here's how they managed to pull it off.

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Using Polygonica, the team was able to create a faithful model of the original flute.
Using Polygonica, the team was able to create a faithful model of the original flute.
(Source: Polygonica)

The Department of Engineering Science at Oxford University presented Polygonica with an interesting challenge; they had a complex mesh created from a 3D scan of a severely damaged part of a 17th century flute that was impossible to 3D print.

The instrument in question, a recorder made in London, had an extremely dry and porous wooden block in the mouthpiece damaged by insects. The CT scan provided by Cranfield University and converted to a STL file was not at all printable. It contained a huge number of errors including self-intersecting triangles and had lots of internal detail not required for 3D printing.

Peter Walters, 3D printing engineer at Oxford University, said “We tried to rebuild the model of the block using several other mesh software tools without success. However the unique capabilities and specialist knowledge of Polygonica enabled this to be achieved with ease.”

“We used Polygonica’s shrink-wrapping algorithms to create a faithful representation of the outer surface of the original model, whilst removing errors and unwanted internal structure. This resulted in an accurate and printable STL file,” said Dr. Simon Vickers, Senior Developer at Machine Works Limited.

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The Pitt Rivers Museum houses a collection of over 7,000 musical instruments from around the world and receives multiple requests for the instruments to be played. Unfortunately, many of the instruments are either too fragile to be played and risk being irreversibly damaged, or else have been contaminated by old pesticide treatments which now pose a health risk to anyone wanting to play them.

The Department of Engineering Science at Oxford University and the Conservation Department at Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum are collaborating to create playable replicas of antique musical instruments using 3D scanning, reverse engineering and 3D printing. The team includes Andrew Hughes and Jeremy Uden from the Pitt Rivers Museum and Alfonso Castrejon-Pita, Peter Walters and Benjamin Fudge from Oxford University Department of Engineering Science.

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