Modern technologies enable researchers to gain new insights

Through industrial imaging processes and 3D printing, extinct species can be brought to life for science and research, and new information about their living conditions can be gained.

With the experts from YXLON International, a specialist company focusing on industrial X-ray and computed tomography, the scientists from the Centre for Natural History (CeNak) succeeded in reconstructing the skull of the Sumatran rhinoceros with micrometer precision.

For the scientists around Prof. Dr. Kaiser and the curators of the CeNak exhibition, the scan of the skull is now the basis for further research work and exhibitions. But for Yxlon himself, too, the matter was far from over with the finished scan.


Trophy hunt without victims - 3D printing makes deceptively real replica possible.

Due to the high effort and the exceptional quality and rarity of the scan, it quickly became apparent to Yxlon that this project was an important showcase for the capabilities of its modern CT systems and the company's expertise, and that the scan of the Sumatran rhinoceros skull should be used as a special jewel. The colleagues had set a tight timeframe to present it accurately at the next show.

As only the stored scan of the skull was available on the road, Protolabs' easily accessible online data upload and ordering service came in handy.

Despite the short time until the opening of the fair and the short lead time for the actual 3D printing, as well as necessary adjustments of the scan for the feasibility of the additive process, the experts from Protolabs managed to reproduce the skull of the Sumatran rhinoceros deceptively realistically. Even the smallest details of the original can be recognized in the model; only the material is different: Instead of a bone, the 3D-printed model is made of Accura Xtreme White 200 and is slightly lighter in color and shows no discoloration. Philip Sperling and Dr. André Beerlink are enthusiastic about the quality: "It is fascinating for our customers, partners and us that we can make CT scans experienceable and palpable, and that Protolabs was able to print the very fine details of this Sumatran rhinoceros skull in the same quality. The impressively fast processing time and competent advice on this complicated undertaking round off our positive experience with Protolabs".

In the future, however, such 3D-printed models could not only be used as showcases at trade fairs. The example of the Sumatran rhinoceros has shown that CT scanning and additive manufacturing can produce deceptively accurate replicas of rare fossils that are invaluable for research and teaching. With the help of modern technologies, conclusions can be drawn about the way of life and behavior of animals, and at the same time, vivid research objects can be created for experiments and further research into living beings that have long since ceased to inhabit our planet. Daniel Cohn, Managing Director of Protolabs Germany, agrees: "Even though the reproduction of fossils is a particular challenge, it is worth making every effort to reproduce them in such detail. We are proud that our replicas are a great service to science and that we can make a contribution to species conservation."

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