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Using 3D Printing To Solve Murder Mysteries & Forensic Investigation

When we are going to talk about 3D Printing and 3D Printers, I believe you have already knew how 3D Printers could change everything in futures. Now many of you can rise question like – Can 3D printing take a step forward in modernizing the justice system of the world? The answer is a positive YES for me and in a way justifies my reasoning that detectives and scientists are somewhat similar in their approach be it solving a problem, questioning, searching for traces of clue or even revealing the untold truth.

3D printing technology is growing in leaps and bounds and has already squared down to take Forensic Science and crime investigation departments to a new level altogether. This is because, the unique technology has the ability to quickly produce physical replicas of objects straight from computer scanned data.

3d facial bone reconstruction
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How Different Can 3D Printing Turn Out To Be In Forensic Sciences?

In case of murder trials, the court often relies on evidences such as photographs of the crime scene in order to carry out the trial of an accused. Despite the fact that bones are the provential area of a forensic anthropologist, it does not get taken into the court room as a piece of evidence. Why? It can be because according to biological anthropologist David Errickson,

“presenting human remains can be disturbing for some individuals, which in turn could lead to prejudicing the jury.”

Or, it can be that handling bones in different type of environment could result in bone degradation and would ultimately damage the entire forensic evidence, especially if the human remains are found to be in extremely poor condition.

Nevertheless, one cannot deny the fact that bones are 3 dimensional objects and are capable of capturing evidences far more accurately than photographs. This because unlike bones, photographs are two dimensional documentation and hence could lose a third of its essential data.

Unlike the other traditional forensic investigation methods

The advantage of 3D printing technology is that, unlike other traditional manufacturing methods like Machining, one can produce a replica of even the most complex piece of objects.

How 3D printing helps to scan out a replica of a human bone?

#1. The first step involves digitization of a particular object into a 3D model. This is where Surface Scanning comes to play its role. Surface Scanning encompasses both structured light and laser scanning. Laser scanning helps to primarily preserve and conserve materials that are fragile. When a case is taken into the court room, Surface scanning enables the documentation of osteology while taking care not to damage the remains.

#2. After documenting the 3D digitization, the next step is to ensure that the model is turned into a continuous volume. This is the process where objects are formed from the 3D model data by combining the materials through the process of layering. This is like stacking of a series of blocks on top of each other. The process requires some preparation in order to fill out any gaps, so that the object can be solidified into a water tight mesh.

#3. The next step is the final stage, where the final outcome is done using the actual printing process. Most 3D printers come with different quality setting features that help to define the quality of the surface finish and the step increment of the part.

The total time taken for printing the final outcome depends on the complexity of the object parts. The process can be complete within a few minutes or even several hours.

In fact, some of the practical applications that had already been carried out in the Forensic fields are replication of footprints, facial reconstruction and identification, finger print examination, forensic pathology, accident reconstruction, structural and industrial accidents, etc.

3d printing in forensic science
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The 3D Printing Technology Boom

The greatest reason behind this technology boom is that, 3D printing includes digitization systems such as laser scanners, photogrammetry, structured light scanners, and other kinds of technology. The availability of affordable hardware and easy use of photogrammetry software has made 3D printing accessible even to the average consumer.

Already forensic anthropologists are becoming increasingly interested in this technological accuracy and its way of introducing physical evidences to the jury in order to solve a homicide case without having to compromise the case. But the popularity of these 3D printers in solving crimes are not only to be seen in the real world alone. Speaking in case of the reel world, in a very recent Bones episode, viewers were given a glimpse of the 3D printing technology when a group of anthropologists resorted to it to solve a crime. Images of a human skeleton were scanned and then uploaded to the cloud, which was then downloaded and printed by another team located halfway around the world, in order to solve a murder mystery.


Despite the technological advantage that 3D printing brings to solve crime investigations or court purposes faster than before, it is still considered to be relatively new. Part of the reason behind this may be that it’s perceived as a complex technology, is costly or maybe there’s a lack of technological understanding. While traditionally this system had been in use by engineers who were required to create new replica parts and by artists, for the creation of ready-made pieces according to their individual specifications. However, the technology had been used only by quite a few number of criminal investigators and forensic scientists.

forensic 3d printing
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For example, you may consider the May, 2015 Murder Case, where 3D printers were used to help prosecutors and the police to secure a murder case conviction.

Detectives here digitally scanned a fragment of the humerous that they had traced out from the accused’s house as well as a fragment that was stuffed into a suitcase and then disposed off in a canal. With the help of the software, the police could prove that these two evidences could fit back together thus tying the accused to the suitcase. The authorities were also able to detect a specific murder weapon (i.e. a saw) and connect it to the marks that were found on the victim’s bones. During the trial, the prosecutors were able to present 3D images as well as 3D printed bones in front of the jury. Mark Williams, a professor at the University of Warwick, the one who had helped to carry out the case considers it to be a

“…combination of micro-computerised tomography scanning, 3D printing and 3D virtual reality…”

that was done not in order to prove someone’s guilt but rather,

“to understand a case and getting to the truth”.

One of the best things about using 3D printers in solving murder mystery is that it can add depths to a piece of evidence, which is otherwise not possible with a clicked photograph. 3D printed models are able to make one visualize the entire scene and understand the crime in a more precise manner. For now its application in court trials and investigation might be limited. Nevertheless, the ability to recreate a piece of evidence physically is not only an interesting approach but an evidence in itself that an entire crime scene investigation will soon be scaled down to few feet.

Using 3D Printing To Solve Murder Mysteries & Forensic Investigation
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Jennifer Jackson

Jennifer Jackson is currently studying Automation Computer Aided designing and is enthusiastic about 3D printers. She loves to print cool stuff with her wide range of 3D printers.
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