Lancaster Engineering team win international 3D printing award

From left: Dallas Campbell, Tom Abram, Chris Lambert and Avi Cohen from the award sponsors MASIVIT
From left: Dallas Campbell, Tom Abram, Chris Lambert and Avi Cohen from the award sponsors MASIVIT

A team from the School of Engineering at Lancaster University have won a 3D printing award for their work with Lancaster City Museums to increase the accessibility and inclusivity of museum environments for visitors with sight loss.

The Touch & See project has developed a low-cost haptic stand which holds backlit lithophanes which are 3D representations of 2D images.

Made using 3D printing technology at the School of Engineering, lithophanes enable museum visitors with sight loss to engage artwork through touch.

The project has developed a range of sizes and variations of lithophanes plus a haptic stand to hold the illuminated lithophanes and provide audio descriptions of the images, guiding the person to touch specific points.

The product also has headphones with an audio description of the artwork, providing visitors to museums and galleries with a multi-sensory experience.

The initiative is led by Tom Abram and Chris Lambert from Lancaster University with Carolyn Dalton and Ivan Frontani from Lancaster City Museums. The team have partnered with Galloways Society for the Blind in co-developing the solution.

The TCT Awards celebrate the very best in 3D printing with Touch & See winning the Creative Applications Award 2024, hosted at the National Conference Centre in Birmingham, presented by technology and science journalist Dallas Campbell.

Tom Abram, Senior Project Engineer from Lancaster University, said: “It has been a real challenge to create something useful and cost effective. The award is an indication of the dedication and efforts of the whole team to make it successful. I am very proud to have been part of it.”

A key feature of the Touch & See stand is that it is low cost. It can be assembled excluding labour for under £100, making it attractive to many small and medium sized museums and art galleries.

Several Lancaster University students have contributed to the project by providing technical evaluation and proposing design modifications to enhance performance. Undergraduate Researchers Nathan Lister and Kamila Jablonska have also been key members of the team over the past eighteen months, working on generating user feedback and technical development of the product.

There are currently units installed at Lancaster City Museum on Market Square and the Maritime Museum on St George’s Quay. The Touch & See team will shortly be building on work to establish an associate partner network to validate the proof-of-concept by trailing it at further selected sites across the UK.

The co-designed project is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Impact Acceleration Account, which supports Lancaster University researchers to translate their work into broader societal and economic benefits.

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