Using Powder Bed Fusion 3D Printing For Fossil Reconstruction

3D Printed Fossil Reconstruction using Powder Bed Fusion

Museum Exhibits

Fossil Reconstruction in Powder Bed Fusion

Last year, the Site C Culture and Heritage Resources Committee (comprised of 13 Indigenous nations and BC Hydro) and W3 Design Group came to Forge Labs with a unique fabrication project - a 3D printed scale-model reconstruction of a 12,500 year old fossilized skeleton of bison occidentalis.

fossilized skeleton of bison occidentalis

Photo by BC Hydro / Eagle Vision Video Productions Ltd.

Initially, the plan had been to scan the fossils in the collection of the Royal BC Museum one bone at a time - but Covid-19 restrictions meant that access to the museum was not possible. Instead, we digitally sculpted a replica of the skeleton, referencing in detail the hundreds of photographs taken during the excavation.

3D printed replica of a fossilized skeleton done by Forge Labs 3D printing in Vancouver BC

The 3D printed replica, prior to assembly.

The expert advice and additional anatomical reference generously provided by Dr. Edward H. Davies was essential in accurately recreating anatomical features of the skeleton.

Technology used for this project

The 3D printed parts needed to be high resolution to capture the fine cracks and details in the bones, durable enough to survive repeated touching by audiences, and easy to paint - making selective laser sintering in Nylon12 an excellent fit. 


All the bones were keyed to allow for easy assembly once printed and to allow for easy alignment of the complex model onto the curved, CNCed base.

Components of 3D printed fossilized skeleton
Finally, the parts were provided to W3 Design Group’s exhibit fabricator Holman, who mounted the bones to a sculpted plinth and painted them - showcasing the skeleton as it would have looked during the initial excavation.
3D printed fossilized skeleton of a bison completed display

Photo by W3 Design Group Inc.

Full display of 3D printed fossilized skeleton of a bison for BC Hydro exhibit

Photo by W3 Design Group Inc.

Designed by W3 in collaboration with the Site C Culture and Heritage Resources Committee and BC Hydro.