The Great Pagoda at Kew (UK) has proceeded to the restoration of the 250-year-old UNESCO World Heritage site through the installation of 72 large-scale 3D printed dragons.

History tells us that it was commissioned in 1761 in the midst of the reign of King George III. In the years following the Pagoda’s, crowds came from all over the regions to admire the eye-catching details such as the painted wooden dragons. Unfortunately, the latter were removed to accommodate roof repairs and were never replaced, probably because the wood would have rotted over time.

A solution to replicate the dragons

The suggested solution to replace the dragons should also withstand the inclement English weather.

Bringing the dragons back to life required a unique combination of research and reverse engineering – scanning a wood-carved dragon with the FARO® Design ScanArm into 3D Systems’ Geomagic® Design X reverse engineering software. (3D Systems)

The Historic Royal Palaces (HRP) therefore turn to 3D printing. The team firstly used a scan-to-CAD workflow featuring Geomagic® software and SLS 3D printing in order to obtain the expected rendering.  “The project involved scanning a wood-carved dragon with the FARO® Design ScanArm into 3D Systems’ Geomagic® Design X reverse engineering software.

The dragons were printed on 3D Systems’ SLS machines in DuraForm® PA, a durable polyamide 12 nylon material that delivered a rendering similar to the original dragons. Thanks to the resolution and mechanical properties of DuraForm PA, it was possible to achieve complex parts with thin walls or snap fit requirements.

3D Systems has two dedicated artisans painting each of the dragons. Final decorative painting takes about 1.5 days per dragon. The 3D printed dragons weigh between 7-15kg, depending on size. The smallest dragons are 1150mm in length and the largest are 1850mm in length. (3D Systems)

In the case of the Kew dragons, these features suited both the functionality requirement of installation as well as the cosmetic requirements of the historic restoration. The 3D printed dragons were finished by 3D Systems’ skilled artisans who hand-painted each piece.”

For those who are interested, the Great Pagoda at Kew will open tomorrow to the public.

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