More than 83,000 American soldiers are missing in action (MIA) as a result of War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, the Vietnam War and the 1991 Gulf War. The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) has the unhappy job of trying to match unidentified skeletal remains with known MIA soldiers. They use 3D printing technology to reproduce the remains and reconstruct the faces of the fallen.
In a process known as skull photographic superimposition, the skulls they encounter are scanned, printed and then superimposed beneath photographs of MIA soldiers. Everyone's skull is slightly different and the process supports traditional methods of identification like dental records and DNA profiles. JPAC used to outsource the 3D printing process but found the results to be unsatisfactory. "We used to send out for models that cost a fortune and looked terrible," says Audrey Meehan, DNA specialist and project leader for the lab. Meehan and her team decided to purchase a ProJet 3D printer for use in the lab because they believed it would help them save time, money and achieve better results. "By 3D printing models ourselves, we're getting a better product and saving time and taxpayer money."
On average, JPAC identifies the remains of around six soldiers each month. "Even the respectful internment of a single bone from a single Civil War soldier lends some comfort to families of MIAs," says Meehan. "Our work, of which the ProJet is a significant part, is terribly important to both the living patients of the medical center and to the loved ones of soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
If you'd like to know more about JPAC and their mission, you can watch the video below. You can view a quick shot of the skull photographic superimposition process at about 11:45.
This type of 3D printing and facial reconstruction technology is not exclusive to the military. It has been used recently to get a look at the faces of an ancient archer, King Tut and King Richard III.