Custom Prototypes 3D prints Roman helmet with unique finishing touch

At the Additive Manufacturing Users Group Conference in St Louis last week, Toronto-based 3D printing company, Custom Prototypes Inc. took home the award for advanced finishing in the prestigious AMUG Technical Competition.

The company impressed a panel of judges and thousands of attendees with a reproduction of a First Century Roman helmet presumably once worn by Roman General and Cleopatra’s partner Mark Antony.

“According to the legend this helmet was offered to Mark Antony by Cleopatra in the year 34 BC,” Andrew Sliwa, Managing Director at Custom Prototypes told TCT, explaining the inspiration behind the piece. “The helmet was a talk of the town and had some magical powers.”

Andrew went on to explain how the Egyptian iconography angered the Romans causing them to believe Antony had turned his back on Rome, leading to the war and ultimately, his death where he was buried with his most prized possession. 

Andrew adds: “The tomb disappears in the sands of time and so too the helmet. Until, of course, we recreated it.”

The closer you look at the piece, the more interesting it becomes and the team haven’t missed a trick in pushing AM and finishing techniques to the limit. The project began with in-depth research and 3D modelling by San Diego based designer and art history investigator, Cosmo Wenman. Custom Prototypes produced all seven metal parts using Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) in 316 stainless steel followed by an elaborate manual and electro polishing process. The parts where then plated in nickel and 24 carat gold.

Stereolithography was used to produce additional features including colourful gems which boast a stunning marble effect in Somos Watershed XC11122 and Evolve which were dyed and painted. The inner liner of the helmet was printed in Somos Evolve and finished using dye and paint. A subtractive colour removal technique was used create a crocodile leather effect. But perhaps the most impressive feature is the red hair-like, plume crest brush which was printed using a special in-house process that allows for vertical substructures without support which were then hand-dyed, plasticised and finished with a clear coat. 

“This is the first AMUG competition entry 3D printed in metal. Bringing the 316 Stainless steel from its grey sandy look as it comes out of the machine all the way to the mirror finish is simply a lot of work,” Andrew added. “However the biggest trick we have done, (which people at AMUG couldn’t guess) was growing the Hair of the crest. We did it in SLA, vertically with no support and very slow recoater.”

The team was up against some tough competition in the contest which invites AM users to display their unique applications and finishing capabilities. Entries were judged by a panel of esteemed AMUG DINOs, each distinguished members of the AM community. The advanced finishing category is particularly special as it highlights a part of the AM process which is often overlooked but nevertheless crucial to creating a perfect printed model.

The level of detail achieved in this helmet shows what is possible when makers push the boundaries of post-processing and finishing techniques and for a company that also took home first prize in the competition just a few years back, who knows where they will push it next.

Andrew added: “Our team members pushed the envelope of what can be done with additive manufacturing all the way. Nobody has done this before.”

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