3D Systems has undertaken a large project that has seen 72 ornate dragons designed, 3D printed, painted and attached to The Great Pagoda, a UNESCO World Heritage site owned by Historic Royal Palaces in Kew Gardens.
The Great Pagoda at Kew was commissioned in 1761 during the reign of King George III. In the years following the Pagoda's unveiling, it drew crowds who came to marvel at its exotic and eye-catching details - including the painted dragons on the corners of each successive octagonal level. After only 30 years or so, the dragons are thought to have been removed to accommodate roof repairs and were never replaced. Although rumours suggest the dragons served as payment for royal gambling debts, experts believe the wood had simply rotted.
As Historic Royal Palaces (HRP) began the project to restore The Great Pagoda, it needed a way to replace the dragons. HRP required a means to create new dragons that would withstand the famously inclement English weather. 3D Systems' On Demand Manufacturing team, based in the UK, delivered the lightweight, durable dragons using a scan-to-CAD workflow featuring Geomagic software, Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) 3D printing and high-quality finishing. These technologies, combined with the expertise 3D Systems' team demonstrated through many hours of front-end engineering and back-end finishing, made this effort manageable, efficient and cost-effective.
Craig Hatto, project director at Historic Royal Palaces, comments: "We turned to 3D Systems to provide the rapid throughput, accurate details and excellent finishing that was needed for this project. The engineering skill of 3D Systems' team, the opportunity to light-weight the dragon statues, and the material longevity of SLS 3D printing were key considerations for this project."
Not only was weight an issue, but so was wind loading, particularly for the dragons installed near the top of the 50m-high Great Pagoda. To ensure the dragons would survive high winds and not exert excessive loads on the building structure, the team commissioned wind tunnel tests.
Nick Lewis, general manager of on demand manufacturing at 3D Systems, states: "In 3D printing, we are not limited by the need or time required to wait for tooling. The existence of digital 3D data gives us freedom to produce parts rapidly, and with custom sizes."
Phil Schultz, senior vice president and general manager of plastics and On Demand Manufacturing at 3D Systems, says: "We so often see 3D printing technology applied to new innovations that when we get the chance to literally make history, it is quite exciting. In this collaboration with Historic Royal Palaces, we were able to bring new technology to bear on a historical landmark - restoring it to its former beauty and helping to ensure its future for generations to come. It is a testament to the capabilities and expertise of our On Demand Manufacturing team. Our full suite of durable materials, 3D printing technologies, reverse engineering software and practical expertise allow us to create a custom solution no matter how unique the customer's needs."