Lindsay Ackerly and Tatiane van den Akker have been volunteering with the Western Australian Museum on a 3D scanning project, digitising items from the museum’s collection. They wrote about their experience and their reflections on 3D scanning in museums.
Traditionally, the museum sector has been dedicated to collecting, preserving, and researching significant objects. As its reception and role has evolved over time, museums have placed a greater emphasis on public and community engagement. Museums are now places of education, leisure, and entertainment for all members of the public. 3D scanning technology has the potential to create an atmosphere and visitor experience on a whole new level for the museum of the future.
In the past when visitors entered museums, they saw rooms full of objects inside glass showcases; one could look but not touch. Many objects within museums were built to be used and handled, a feature which cannot be utilised in the traditional museum context. 3D scanning technology returns this aspect to the object, allowing a more engaging experience for visitors by allowing for the virtual handling of the object. Visitors can interact with the digital model of the object; zooming in and out to see minute details, turning the object around to see it from different angles, even experiencing the object in an augmented reality setting.
Three-dimensional scanning and printing can also be used in methods of preventive conservation. The technology allows for replica objects to be created with more ease and at a lower cost than ever before. These replicas can be used to allow fragile objects to be taken off display and rested without needing to make any changes to the design and layout of the display. Replicas can also be used to replace parts of objects that are unsuited to being used for display because of their condition. For example, replica frames can be printed and used for the display of artworks so that the original frame can be preserved while still allowing the artwork to be displayed in its original state. The technology has also been used to model whole heritage sites, an example being the Open Heritage Project.
One of the major tasks currently facing the museum sector is that of digitisation. Digitisation includes the transfer of museum records and registers to a digital platform as well as the creation of digital copies of the museum collection. 3D scanning can easily be integrated with this process by incorporating a scan as part of the object photography process, during the digitisation of the existing collection or when registering new acquisitions.
Western Australia Museum (WAM) volunteers, Lindsay Ackerly and Tatiane van den Akker, have been exploring aspects of 3D scanning technology with a Shining 3D EinScan Pro+ scanner purchased through the WAM Foundation Minderoo Grant, scanning and uploading images of artefacts onto WAM’s Sketchfab page.
As with all new technologies, there are pitfalls and areas which need to be perfected. However, the benefits to all areas of the museum sector, be it research, recordkeeping, or community engagement, make the technology well worth exploring. As the technology evolves, the models can only become more precise, more accurate, and easier to create. 3D technology has the potential to change the museum sector for the better, making natural and cultural heritage more accessible and more engaging for visitors.
Acknowledgements to the WAM Foundation Minderoo Grant for supporting this project.