Guangzhou introduces 3D printing to restore remains

Xinhua
Updated: April 7, 2019
A 3D-printed face mask on display at the Guangzhou funeral service center. [Photo/Xinhua]

GUANGZHOU - A special 3D printer worked next to a display cabinet filled with a variety of imitations of body parts at a funeral parlour in Guangzhou, capital of southern China's Guangdong province.

The city's funeral service center is trying to introduce the new technology to help restore remains damaged in accidents.

"We want the deceased to leave with dignity," said Yu Jiaqi (pseudonym), an embalming expert at the funeral parlor.

A technician performs digital modeling. [Photo/Xinhua]

The 3D printing service was launched in early April, the annual tomb-sweeping period for Chinese people to pay their tribute to deceased family and friends.

Quite a few people who died in traffic accidents, fire, falls or mining mishaps were not fit for farewell ceremonies due to damaged faces or serious deformation, which aggravated the grief of their families and friends, according to the funeral parlor, which handles approximately 35,000 bodies every year, about 30 of which need restoration.

Yu said most of the restorations were on faces. "Though not large in number, every successful operation brought utmost respect to the deceased and great comfort to their relatives."

A technician models facial features of a 3D-printed mask. [Photo/Xinhua]

Previously, the restoration was carried out manually, using plasticine, plaster and clay. A facial repair usually took 15 to 30 days.

Yu said not only the long wait but the sometimes barely satisfactory restoration prolonged the pain for family and loved ones.

"The materials can easily deform. We have been looking for better ways to restore the original form of the deceased," she said.

Li Zhijian, deputy head of the funeral service center, said 3D printing only takes 10 days for a much more lifelike and accurate face, and the texture is stronger and feels more like real skin.

A 3D-printed hand on display at the Guangzhou funeral service center. [Photo/Xinhua]

After digital modeling based on the deceased's photos and consultation with the relatives, the printer has to work non-stop for 10 to 20 hours to produce a facial mold. Then a beautician will step in to put makeup on the mold.

Jointly developed by the funeral service center and a laboratory under China's civil affairs ministry, 3D printing service has hit the market. The price depends on the damage degree of the remains.

Li said the introduction of 3D printing to funeral services is not only an expansion of application scenario but also reflects humanistic care of the technology.