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Restoring China's Forbidden City With 3-D Printing

samzenpus posted about 2 years ago | from the printing-the-past dept.

China 46

First time accepted submitter jcho5 writes "China's 600-year-old Forbidden City is looking less forbidding these days. As part of a major restoration, the Chinese Palace museum will use 3D-Printers to re-manufacture and replicate many of the city's most precious and unique objects. From the article: 'PhD student Fangjin Zhang—along with her colleagues at Loughborough Design School in the East Midlands of England—had, for a number of years, been looking into the use of 3D printing as means to restore sculptures and archaeological relics. According to a Loughborough press release, Zhang developed a “formalized approach tailored specifically to the restoration of historic artifacts.” After reviewing Zhang’s techniques, the Palace Museum then invited Loughborough researchers to repair several Forbidden City artifacts, including the ceiling and enclosure of a pavilion in the Emperor Chanlong Garden.'"

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the forbiden city (0)

laserdog (2500192) | about 2 years ago | (#39695655)

dont go there man just dont go there its called forbdin for a reason probaly so just dont go there plz or else the ghosts will get u

Re:the forbiden city (2)

walkerp1 (523460) | about 2 years ago | (#39695669)

dont go there man just dont go there its called forbdin for a reason probaly so just dont go there plz or else the ghosts will get u

-1 insipid?

Re:the forbiden city (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39696397)

As a child I used to ride my bicycle on the snowmobile trails behind old Mr. Booth's property. For years, whenever I came upon a section of trail adorned with a large "DANGER! DO NOT ENTER" sign, I would freak out, hop off my bike, and run away as fast as I could. What could be so dangerous behind that sign, I wondered? Bears? Something from that Poe-inspired book of scary tales that the older kids used to read at camp? An FBI sting operation with a shoot-to-kill directive? I had no idea, but I didn't want to find out. I suspect that Mr. Booth would recover my bike each week and return it to my parents, because somehow it always appeared in the basement again, ready for next weekend.

One day, it occurred to me that Mr. Booth might know what the danger was. It was his land, after all. So one day I stopped by his house to ask him about it. I put it off as long as I could, afraid that I would be reprimanded for going anywhere near the sign. Eventually I got up the courage to ask. The answer? There were a lot of rocks on the trail that would damage snowmobiles in the winter. No bears, no FBI, no danger whatsoever to me on my bike. It was an important day my life, as it was the point at which I learned that rules are not absolute, that context matters.

Re:the forbiden city (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39697979)


More like panhandlers. You will have to go through a gauntlet of them when you exit the Forbidden City. The PLA cracks down hard on panhandlers inside the City.

This "3D Printing" thing... (-1)

oldhack (1037484) | about 2 years ago | (#39695709)

How many actually give a rat's ass? That shit comes up every other day here and twice on sunday. Someone less tolerant (like some other people than me, for example) would think them spams.

Re:This "3D Printing" thing... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39695833)

I do! The 3D printer I ordered a couple weeks ago will hopefully ship this week.

Infinite Energy? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39695727)

If 3d printed Energy is become print could obtain print to Infinite Eneergy?

Re: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39695733)

How is this any different from a manufacturing process using a mould. Why the term '3D printing'?

Re: (3, Insightful)

rev0lt (1950662) | about 2 years ago | (#39695795)

Because probably they'll be doing a single copy of each, using some hard material that substitutes whatever you pour into moulds. Moulds themselves are frequently done by casting a 3D-printed copy with the mould material.

Re: single copy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39697011)

Because probably they'll be doing a single copy of each, using some hard material that substitutes whatever you pour into moulds. Moulds themselves are frequently done by casting a 3D-printed copy with the mould material.

Single copy!?
Think! We're talking about China here.
Officially, there will be a single copy. But on your way out, a hawker will take you to his shack to try to sell you "the true original."

Scan.. Repair... Print... (4, Informative)

dryriver (1010635) | about 2 years ago | (#39695793)

As I understand it, they take ancient objects from the Forbidden City that are damaged (cracked, parts missing), scan them into a computer with a 3D optical or laser scanner, repair/restore the object/artifact in digital 3D space - using organic modeling tools like ZBrush perhaps - then use a 3D printer to print out the repaired/restored 3D object at 1:1 scale to the original object. It says in TFA, towards the bottom, that the Smithsonian Museum is about to engage in a similar effort of 3D scanning thousands of objects from it collection, and printing 1:1 replicas of them with 3D Printers.

burned (3, Insightful)

ebonum (830686) | about 2 years ago | (#39695851)

Sadly, Mao and the cultural revolution burned a good percentage of China's history. Things connected to the old dynasties were fare game. Much of their 5,000 year history went in to the fire and they did it to themselves.

Re:burned (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39695959)

So what's your point?

Re:burned (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39696545)

The point is that once you go out and destroy cultural artifacts they can easily be gone forever. Same goes for the Buddhist statues that the Taliban blew up in Afghanistan.

China right now is in the process of trying to make more use of the culture as a way of bringing in tourists, but, anything that was destroyed either intentionally or accidentally during the various wars and uprising over the millennia is lost forever.

Re:burned (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39696183)

Most of the artifacts of the Forbidden City are in Taiwan, Republic of China (ROC), so they escaped the Cultural Revolution.

Re:burned (2)

jedwidz (1399015) | about 2 years ago | (#39696937)

The application that came to mind for me (but not in TFA) is duplicating those artifacts in Taiwan so that they can be displayed in the real Forbidden City. (This is China, so people have to be relaxed about authenticity anyway.)

The artifacts under curation in Taiwan are exhibited at the National Palace Museum [wikipedia.org].

Interesting bit from that Wikipedia article:

The displays are rotated once every three months, which means 60,000 pieces can be viewed in a year and it would take nearly 12 years to see them all.

Re:burned (1)

jandersen (462034) | about 2 years ago | (#39698735)

Most of the artifacts of the Forbidden City are in Taiwan, Republic of China (ROC), so they escaped the Cultural Revolution.

Stolen, in modern vernacular.

Re:burned (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39703317)

That depends on which side of the history you are familiar with. At the time the nationalist ROC government is the "rightful" sovereign state of China, and the communist party is the rebel. That's what I was taught.

It's funny because if you were from mainland China, they claim the nationalist to be the rebel.

Re:burned (1)

magarity (164372) | about 2 years ago | (#39697481)

yes but that isn't what tfa is about. a lot of the forbidden city is crumbling away by accident. all the walkway rail for example are carved soapstone. super easy to carve beautifuly but after a couple hundred years of rain the figures are sad blobs.

Re:burned (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39697839)

you forget that there was a lot of cultural artifacts from China that were stolen and raided from colonial western powers and then later Japan. isn't it nice to force someone to buy back stolen treasures to save your own economy?

Re:burned (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39704151)

FYI the majority of the artifacts were lost in a 1923 fire when some royal servants burned up one of the treasure 'warehouses' (Tsien-fu Kong ) to destroy evidence of their smuggling artifacts to sell outside the palace. It was well before Mao was even able to come close to it.
I'm not sure what's the point you're trying to make. True that Mao and his cultural revolution destroyed many historic artifacts/site/etc., but if it's forbidden city we are talking about here, it was kept almost intact since its communist acquisition and throughout the revolution (of course, under direct orders from the then premier Chou, not Mao).

Durability (1)

bobwrit (1232148) | about 2 years ago | (#39695865)

One concern about this plan that I would have is the question of how durable the material is. Most of the 3D printer's I've been around/used have only printed a fairly cheap hard plastic. If they're trying to use that, I don't think the plan will go over well. On the other hand, if they use metal(I believe some printers can handle it. I remember shapeways having something to that effect as an offering), it could go over well.

Re:Durability (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39695897)

why be concerned? the plastic replicas have no historic value, and presumably one would keep
both the digital model and the original artifact.

print a new one when it wears out, or when processes and materials have improved.

Re:Durability (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39695991)

Durability & China. There are two words that just don't belong in the same sentence. Given the choice to products manufactured in China, or not-China, the smart money is anywhere-but-China. This project should contract the Japanese or Koreans to do it right.

Re:Durability (1)

SpectreBlofeld (886224) | about 2 years ago | (#39697165)

Doc: No wonder this circuit failed. It says "Made in Japan".
Marty McFly: What do you mean, Doc? All the best stuff is made in Japan.
Doc: Unbelievable.

Re:Durability (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39697313)

I know, right? I mean, there was a short period of time when something made in Japan meant "shitty and busted-on-arrival" like Chinese products have been for the past decade, but the Japanese kept honing quality into their processes and goods. We have been enduring Chinese crap for quite a while now, I was thinking that eventually they'd get their act together like the Japanese did, but it would seem they've chosen to fill the world with cheap, shitty stuff, forever, instead. It must be a cultural thing, making/consuming garbage is an acceptable way of life; like maybe they lack a fundamental technological/intellectual/cultural capacity to practice quality in any meaningful way.

Re:Durability (1)

SpectreBlofeld (886224) | about 2 years ago | (#39697561)

Well, the fact is, people buy imports from places like China because the manufacturing is cheap. Cheaper than domestic production. Sure, the Chinese manufacturers could build to the standards of (say) American manufacturing, but at that point, once you factor in overseas training, import costs, etc, you lose the advantage of having your products made in China.

The Chinese government knows this and artificially depresses the value of Chinese currency in order to keep exports up. It's hard to say what Chinese imports would really cost if they did not do this, but it would certainly shift against importing from China (though my gut tells me that we would simply look to other developing nations like India, Mexico, or a half-dozen other South American nations for our goods - Apple has been looking to Brazil for manufacturing lately).

In short, if you really want quality, you don't go to the opposite end of the Earth to find someone to make your product, unless you're willing to physically go there and oversee the standards (which is what Apple is doing - don't tell me they don't have representatives at FoxConn supervising the shit out of that place).

In any case, I have a feeling that 'American manufacturing' (as it stands) may never recover. By outsourcing our manufacturing, we're also selling off our intellectual property and infrastructure - in short, we've all but sold off entire industries. I'd argue that the US still has the best 'idea men' in the world, and arguably the best scientists and researchers (for now); but what do we do with our amazing new processor core designs (or whatever)? Give it to another country to have them build it so we can buy it back from them. I suppose that's a good thing for anyone who wants information to be free (because at this point it certainly is), but look what it did for companies like Dell -

http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2011/08/17/why-amazon-cant-make-a-kindle-in-the-usa/ [forbes.com]

Yeah, Dell more or less created the modern giant incarnation of Asus when they outsourced their tech.

Re:Durability (1)

rev0lt (1950662) | about 2 years ago | (#39697701)

Today, you don't have that much of a choice when you want to produce a specific product. There are only a bunch of major manufacturers worldwide. The case of apple is mostly the marketing department washing out the hypocrisy. Foxconn is a major worldwide player, and Apple products are actually a somewhat small fraction of business. From what I've seen, it's not even half bad - good salaries, good worl environment, quality production, and demanding customers. If you think they're bad, you should check working conditions in many other chinese factories - you'll see soldering without exhaust pipes or masks, daily exposure to corrosive chemicals, etc.
The modern "traditional" american manufacturing industry is a post-WW2 creation, and has thrived on a local and foreign market without competition. The "american dream" is based on the concept that there is no foreign competition, so every piece of crap is good because it's american. Well, the world has changed. Europe doesn't need any more US money or raw products, and some of the pillars of the american industry (such as the auto industry) were largely outpaced by everyone else. Even in I&D, the last big american bastion, they're being challenged by EU and Asian companies and universities.

Re:Durability (1)

rev0lt (1950662) | about 2 years ago | (#39697653)

You get what you paid for. It's the same everywhere else - cheap production is crap. China is a milenar culture, with very famous monuments that had endured the test of time, Can you say the same about the place you live?

Re:Durability (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39698251)

Unfortunately, I have paid extra to get higher quality, and all I got was the same crap at a higher price. So, no, it is not the same as other nations, it is a more Chinese-specific thing, IMO. As for your monuments, you are referring to a very different period of Chinese culture & history - a period utterly foreign to the last two or three generations. Imagine the current culture trying to make a similar monument; it'd crumble in a year and no one would give a shit.

2K years old and looking good: call us in 3776AD.. (1)

fantomas (94850) | about 2 years ago | (#39698277)

Some may disagree with you. [bbc.co.uk] Chinese lacquerware can last 2000 years and be worth an awful lot of money. If you're writing from the USA, give us a call in the year 3776 and let us know how you're getting on with your crockery...

Re:2K years old and looking good: call us in 3776A (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39700591)

You are referring to an entirely different breed of Chinese - a period when quality meant something. Show me something manufactured in the last decade that has the same level of pride of workmanship. It's all garbage, and it's staying that way; whatever cultural/social spark that caused the artisans of the old times to aim high, has been utterly and completely flushed down the toilet. I wonder if there is even a Chinese word for "quality" any more.

Re:Durability (1)

Bomazi (1875554) | about 2 years ago | (#39697187)

Durability is a non-issue. You can always mold your plastic copy and make a cast with whatever material you want.

The value of 3D-printing is that it is the cheapest way to turn a 3D-model into a real life object. And it is detailed too.

Quite interesting (1)

ausrob (864993) | about 2 years ago | (#39695869)

Today they have the palace grounds, but most of the relics from the Imperial age which were stored there were lost or stolen over the past 90 years.

However, they do have a lot of photos, tapestries and paintings of the pre-Boxer rebellion palace. It's quite interesting that we're at a point now where we can take those photos and use them to recreate on a 1:1 scale items that would otherwise have been lost to us, even if they are just recreations.

Bit of a problem here (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39695885)

Part of the point of these things is that it took a fuckton of effort to make them. The ten thousand layers of laquer on some of the laquer art, for example. Then there's the difference between art and replicas. Some people won't notice, others will but not know what's the matter, and to figure out what you need an expert. The thing is, 3d printers can do a lot, but the je ne sais quoi that makes art you can't replicate with a scan and a machine. Or even with good training and a steady hand.

There's a point in replicas, and they'll remain useful. But it's good to remember that there's also a non-point to them, that there's a reason they're called replicas: They are simply not the original.

Museums of the Future? (1)

guttentag (313541) | about 2 years ago | (#39696077)

I've generally thought of museums as places where you could connect with the past. For example: "This is the actual flag Francis Scott Key was looking at when he wrote the Star Spangled Banner... look at the tears and the holes!"

How long before museums routinely use 3D printing to replicate items that are damaged or considered too fragile to be on display, or too valuable? Once you start "replacing" the missing parts, you're rewriting history. I know the Chinese would never censor or rewrite anything, but what about the French? Would you still want to go the Louvre see the Venus de Milo [wikipedia.org] if she had new 3D printed arms?

A fair point, but as for the past... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39696273)

Once you start "replacing" the missing parts, you're rewriting history.

Are you?

I'd wager that the majority of people living today still falsely believe that the Greeks and Romans were all about boring unpainted statues, thanks to the false impressions given by not repairing damage.

Re:Museums of the Future? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39696659)

You are just not thinking it through enough.
"Here is the Venus de Milo"..."and here is a replica including what we believe the missing arms and plinth would have looked like".

Re:Museums of the Future? (2)

rev0lt (1950662) | about 2 years ago | (#39697715)

Yeah, and how many fakes are today on display as the original works of art? It's not like the public (and the experts, btw) are that much demanding. And I'd prefer to see an actual replica of a roman house than those rock-piled ruins that end on my knee. How did it look like? Was it painted? Did it have clay walls? How was the lighting? How were the ceilings? Do they used doors, or just curtains?

Outgassing (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39696279)

As a former museum professional, the main problem I foresee is damage to real artifacts being caused by outgassing of the cheap plastics usually used in 3D printing applications. Outgassing and leaching of unstable compound are two of the main reasons preservationists generally are very careful to employ inert (and often extremely expensive) materials when restoring the fabric of fragile historic objects.

Open source the files? (2)

Okian Warrior (537106) | about 2 years ago | (#39696421)

Just a thought - does anyone think that China or the Smithsonian will make the scans available to the public?

There's a large number of 3-d printers in the hobby scene. It'd be very neat to be able to download files and print your own replica work of art.

Pirated source-files (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39697223)

The Pirate Bay offers 3D object downloads... now and in the future.

As for this article, the Loughborough Design School in the East Midlands of England probably won't hand out the files that "belong" to China.

When the Smithsonian gets its project going we'll see.

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