Belfast 3D print specialist ensures Dippy keeps it head on tour

The 3D printed heads for the UK Dippy tour are being produced at LPE's Castlereagh premises
Gary McDonald Business Editor

BELFAST-based 3D printing specialist Laser Prototypes Europe (LPE) has used 21st century technology to ensure a Jurassic period dinosaur will arrive in Belfast next September with its head on.

The company, established by researcher Tom Walls, has produced eight 3D resin skulls for a 26-metre skeleton of a Diplodocus (nicknamed Dippy) which has just begun an epic UK tour of museums and cathedrals, where is it expected to be seen by five million people between now and next January.

Last year the head of the National History Museum's much-loved Diplodocus was laser-scanned, which captured its exact size and shape, down to the smallest details, creating a high-resolution digital model.

The data from that scan was then used by LPE in Castlereagh to 3D-print eight exact replica skulls, five of which will be used by the Real World Science partner institutions for education while one will remain in London for research and study.

The other two will go with Dippy on the tour, which has just begun at Dorset County Museum on the Jurassic Coast, which was designated a World Heritage site because of its rich history of palaeontology.

Visitors will be able to handle and examine the replicas and get a closer look at Dippy, which will be on public view at the Ulster Museum in Belfast from September 17 for four months.

The skulls, which each weigh around three kilogrammes and are made of lightweight durable resin, were printed in a single piece by LPE, the longest established rapid prototyping and rapid manufacturing bureau within Britain and Ireland.

Laser scanning and 3D printing are seen as safe ways to create models of original specimens, avoiding have to make a mould of the surface and then a cast, thus eliminating the risk of touching the object.

Campbell Evans, sales director at LPE, said: "Our process was perfect for recreating the complex free-form shape of Dippy's skull, giving an exact copy of the scanned data.

"The project was a really interesting one for LPE, as much of our work is for electronic housings, covers, connectors and everyday engineering components.

"It's not every day we see a dinosaur coming through the doors, let alone eight of them."

LPE has been providing specialist 3D printing, rapid prototyping and additive manufacturing services since 1991 and has provided props for Game of Thrones, X Men and Mrs Brown's Boys Da Movie - and even a 'magic hand' for Lady Gaga during a tribute performance to David Bowie at the Grammy Awards.

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