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3D printed coracle coming to new Ironbridge museum

State-of-the-art technology has been used to bring one of the oldest methods of river transport back to life in Ironbridge.

The 3D Measurement Company (T3DMC), based in Bridgnorth, have been tasked with creating a life-sized exact replica model of a coracle, to be used in a new museum run by The Ironbridge Coracle Trust.

From Fred Davies, known nationally as Coracle Man, who had the job of recovering footballs from the river behind Shrewsbury Town Football Club's former stadium, to helping workers in Ironbridge cross the River Severn to get to work in Coalbrookdale, coracles have been used for centuries with a rich heritage in Shropshire.

Designs of the river boat vary depending on their origin and differences can be seen in designs made just a few miles apart on the river.

The typical Shrewsbury coracle, in comparison to the nearby Ironbridge, is more square with a flatter base, whereas the Ironbridge craft has a more bowl-like design. The laths on a Shrewsbury coracle also have sharper curves, creating a more box-shaped boat.

After being approached by The Ironbridge Coracle Trust, T3DMC used the latest in 3D laser scanning including recently purchased handheld scanners to help recreate the ancient boat building craft.

See the scanning as it happened here:

Using reverse engineering, a 3D scan of the original coracle is taken to record its exact dimensions before being entered into a 3D printer and a Computer Aided Design (CAD) model created.

The output from the scan is a computer file containing the exact measurements of the coracle in three dimensions and includes every feature of every surface of the coracle to make sure the printed version is an exact replica.

The finished model will be more durable and ideal for museum visitors to climb inside to get an idea of the skill required to balance and steer a coracle.

This technique of scanning is often used in the manufacturing industry where drawings have been lost or certain parts have been manually changed or worn over time as it captures original parts with very high accuracy.

Neal Taylor, technical director of T3DMC, said: "We are all really excited to be able to support such an important heritage project using innovative new 3D scanning techniques to replicate such an ancient craft.

"We all live in Shropshire now and with the business based in Bridgnorth, we feel very connected to the local area so we were delighted to assist the Ironbridge Coracle Trust with their project.

"We have used one of our new range of handheld 3D laser scanners for the project, as it is capable of measuring larger objects quickly with accuracy levels down to 20 microns, so it is the ideal tool for the job.

"We don't need to use any surface preparation with this type of scanner so we will not damage the original coracle in any way while still capturing accurate 3D scan data."

After forming in 2013 in a 3D scanning facility in Stanmore Park, T3DMC is now home to the largest open-source, automated, optical scanning facility in the UK, capable of handling parts up to three metres in diameter and two tonnes in weight.

The company has recently added a portfolio of handheld 3D laser scanners to conduct more intricate and close proximity scans such as the coracle.

Graham Peet, from Ironbridge Coracle Trust confirmed it is creating a museum to tell the story of coracles in the Gorge, and that the replica boat will be perfect for visitors to sit in.

The replica is part of an important heritage project which has seen the Coracle Trust granted £76,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund to rebuild the coracle shed in Ironbridge and commemorate the life and work of river men.

The scheme to refurbish the shed is underway and an application has been submitted to Telford & Wrekin Council to turn it into a visitor attraction.

The plan states: "The proposal is to stabilise one of the last remaining coracle sheds in England and establish it as a visitor attraction as part of a wider Heritage Lottery Funded project.

"The shed will not be able to accommodate visitors internally but it is proposed that there will be ‘virtual access’ using the existing window on the north elevation and through creating six 75mm peep holes into the shed to enable visitors to see active interpretation scenes within."

The work is also set to include repairing windows, the roof and steps, replacing guttering and installing a hand rail.

The proposed development of the coracle shed forms part of the trust’s wider project to develop a coracle trail – a walking trail to highlight points of interest relevant to the river life and coracle heritage of Ironbridge.

A decision on the proposals is expected to be made by Telford & Wrekin Council in the upcoming months.

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