The Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) holds a collection of valuable artifacts, each one containing a unique chapter of U.S. naval history. In August, NHHC contacted Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division in West Bethesda, Maryland, to support 3D scanning of USS Saginaw’s surviving gig, which is a small whaling boat generally used as the captain’s taxi.
Saginaw was an active ship during the American Civil War, but was grounded after striking an outlying reef near Midway Island in 1870, 150 years ago. Five volunteers embarked in the gig on a one month, 1,500-mile mission to find rescue for the 88 stranded members of the crew. Only one of the five, William Halford, made it to the coast of Hawaii alive, but after getting word to the king, the crew was saved. Today, Saginaw’s surviving gig is housed at NHHC’s collection management facility in Richmond, Virginia.
In a collaborative effort to support the 3D-scanning mission of the gig to commemorate the 150th anniversary of its voyage, Carderock engineers Scott Ziv, Ryan Fisher and Anthony Brock teamed up with Combatant Craft Division engineers Ryan Evanko and Roseller Lim. Combatant Craft Division is a detachment of Carderock located at Little Creek-Fort Story Joint Expeditionary Base, Virginia.
The team used two FARO-Focus S70s and one FARO-Focus X330 to capture the exterior and interior of the gig. Target spheres were placed around the hull to align and stitch the scans together, and a higher detail FARO Arm was used to record the finer, smaller details on the boat.
“It took us about three hours to scan the 35-foot vessel,” Ziv said. “We had a short tour of the warehouse at the beginning, and after NHHC saw how quickly we were scanning the gig, they brought out more artifacts for us to scan.”
A pipe given as a gift to Adm. Arleigh Burke, a wooden crocodile, a spyglass and several other small items were selected for the team to scan with the FARO Arm. According to Ziv, however, processing scans is not as easy as it sounds.
“Whenever people think about 3D scanning they think they get an exact copy of the model,” Ziv said. “The truth is that it’s never really like that because there are some places the scanner cannot get to, like a crevice or cavity. 3D scanners capture features, and there is a lot of approximation that goes into it. Once you take the scans, you get a point cloud of what you can see. Then it goes to another software where you can mesh that data, erase faulty data, patch holes you can’t reach, or stitch multiple scans together. As the engineer, you need to be able to understand what is and is not an important feature in the object you’re trying to scan.”
Ziv said he was surprised to learn that museums showcase only a small fraction of their collection; and he credited NHHC for exploring a new way to display naval history. When the scan of the surviving gig is finished processing, it will appear online for public access and viewing. One of NHHC’s creative future options includes a virtual-reality experience, which would allow online visitors to view the hull in a full 360-degree rotation.
“Museums don’t have enough space to display their entire collection at any one time. What you see is typically less than 20% of what they actually own,” Ziv said. “This was the NHHC Curator Branch’s first attempt to digitize some of their artifacts, which will survive longer than their physical presence. Initially, I think one of the command’s goals is to establish a 3D web viewer, but there are also other opportunities to share these artifacts with the public. Whether it’s a dinosaur or a boat or a missile launcher, you don’t really realize how big something is until you stand next to it, and that opens the door – possibly – to virtual reality. What does a museum of the future look like?”
Although 3D scanning capabilities are relatively new to Carderock’s Additive Manufacturing Branch, they have been a constant practice for the command’s Performance and Evaluation Branch. Brock, who has plenty of experience in 3D scanning, played a pivotal role in supporting space planning efforts at Carderock in a more remote environment.
Brock and Fisher were tasked with scanning Building 9 to capture facilities data and dimensions for future equipment additions and space renovations and support expansion planning for the Manufacturing Knowledge and Education (MAKE) Lab.
“Part of the restructuring at Building 9 was for the Platform Integrity Department,” Brock said. “They were looking to acquire new equipment, and they wanted a good idea of the space in the facility to plan for the new machines coming in. So, we scanned the area, which took about two days, and stitched all the scans together to create a floor plan and simulation of the available space.”
Brock, much like Evanko, Lim and Fisher, is well-versed in 3D scanning. Ziv, on the other hand, is developing his knowledge in the field and said this experience benefitted him and the command in several ways.
“One of the biggest benefits to Carderock is that this capability shows and builds on our technical expertise,” he said. “Technical excellence is easy to say, but hard to prove until you go out and do something like this, leverage your skills to make a lasting change, and strengthen our relationship with our partners.”
Another benefit for Carderock, according to Brock, has been networking with Combatant Craft Division.
“It is nice to have additional points of contact for scanning resources,” he said. “If we have a big project in the future, it is good to know we have people who can help us support the mission.”
While the COVID pandemic continues to linger across the United States, it did not prevent Carderock engineers from preserving storied pieces of naval history and helping the public experience them from home.