Over the past year the Smithsonian has been actively scanning their treasures and stockpiling the CAD data. Now, they have teamed up with 3D Systems to explore the possibility of making printed reproductions of their exhibits. According to a recent press release the two companies have signed a major, multi-year contract focusing on the "Smithsonian-wide effort to strengthen collections stewardship and ensure the accessibility of its vast and diverse collections through exploring the possibilities of 3D representations."
President and CEO of 3D Systems, Avi Reichental told reporters, "We are honored and excited to be part of this visionary Smithsonian initiative, to increase the visibility and accessibility of our national treasures for all. The Smithsonian has shown both foresight and technological leadership in embracing the potential of 3D printing to preserve and showcase today's and tomorrow's collections, making them readily available to a global audience while demonstrating the power of 3D content-to-print in a compelling and meaningful way."
The Smithsonian is one of the first museums to attempt the digital cataloging of their artifacts and one of the first to explore the use of 3D printing to create reproductions. As the world's largest museum (it encompasses 19 museums and galleries, the National Zoological Park and nine research facilities), it may well take years to scan and print even a portion of their inventory. The official contract details were not made public so we have no way of knowing which historical pieces 3D Systems will be working with first but we do know the Smithsonian has already put 3D printing technology to good use once before: In 2012 they printed a statue of Thomas Jefferson with the help of RedEye on Demand.