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3D Scanning at the Marriott Library

Incense burner scanned at the Marriott Library

By TJ Ferrill

Hello readers! I am T.J. Ferrill, and today’s post is a brief history of the Marriott Library’s 3D scanning capacities. Things have started to pick up speed lately, so I wanted to share a bit about where the momentum started. It was in 2012 that I first started thinking about 3D scanning. The process of digitizing a physical model seemed difficult and esoteric; just the kind of problem we like to tackle at the Library. Having no experience working with 3D model data, it seemed a daunting task to offer some level of service around 3D scanning for physical objects. Working at the Marriott Library’s Knowledge Commons, my colleagues and I noticed a sustained interest from patrons in working with 3D data. Having considered our options, in July 2013 we began with a modest purchase of a NextEngine 3D Laser Scanner. This scanner allowed us to answer basic questions about 3D digitization, and gave a starting point for our own collective understanding of the translation between physical and digital. It also gave us a glimpse into the challenges of 3D scanning. We learned about object preparation, part orientation, as well as times for data capture (hours) and processing (days!). We also began to understand “printability” of models. That is, going from physical to digital and back again. It was a slog, but I still have my first fully replicated part — a toy from my childhood.

Scanned replica of a childhood toy by TJ Ferrill.

TJ’s first 3D scan and print project, a childhood toy, 3D scanned and printed in 2013.

Fast forward six years. We now have a more complete 3D manipulation skillset and have countless projects behind us. What I have learned is that 3D scanning equipment is necessary, but is not sufficient for a successful project. Just as important are a clear vision about project goals (see the Digital Matters project by Megan Weiss), and the ability to manipulate 3D data once it has been captured. Sometimes capturing a 3D scan is the least of our worries. On more than one occasion I have had to pause a project while I search for a computer with the right capacity to process the capture. Other times, 3D scanning isn’t the right approach. Often times a student wants to design a part, starting with a 3D scan. Experience tells me that this time might be better spent learning a 3D design tool.

Lately I have been actively working on several exciting projects, from museum collections to prosthetic duckbills, and many in between. In addition to creating 3D replicas of objects using a 3D printer, I am also increasingly interested in other modes of utility and display of 3D data. We are still in the process of finding and answering questions around preservation, storage, access, and potential uses of 3D models. Future work will include rendering captured 3D models in Virtual Reality environments, where users will be able to interact with unique models in ways that aren’t possible in the real world.

I am certain that 3D scanning is getting easier. Tomorrow, Digital Matters will host a workshop taught by PhD student Nicholas Hebdon on photogrammetry. Using photographs from a camera, or even frames stripped from a video, anyone with a reasonably powered desktop computer can build a decent 3D mesh. Looking further ahead, it seems inevitable that reconstructing a 3D model will become as simple as capturing a digital photograph is today. As head-mounted display technology gets smaller, and computer vision models become more commonplace, there will come a time when capturing and displaying 3D renders in real-world situations is not only common but also necessary to research, education, and industry.

A Mayan urn caputred in December 2018 as part of a faculty collaboration with the Utah Museum of Fine Arts.

This Mayan urn was captured in December 2018 as part of a faculty collaboration with the Utah Museum of Fine Arts.

I leave with the above picture from a scanning session done in 2018 at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts. Working with ceramicist and visiting faculty member Horacio Rodriguez, we scanned several objects from the collection. This pre-Columbian incense burner turned out beautifully. If you have a project you’d like to discuss, I would like to hear from you! Email me at

Until next time,


TJ Ferrill | Assistant Head of Creative Spaces
Creativity & Innovation Services / Creative Spaces

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