Page last updated at 15:12 GMT, Friday, 18 December 2009
Newport's medieval ship model is taking shape
Newport ship model
The model ship is being created by the melting of plastic dust by lasers

A model replica of Newport's medieval ship will soon be complete thanks to an innovative manufacturing process perfected at Cardiff University.

The 15th Century vessel was discovered in the banks of the River Usk in June 2002 during construction of the city's Riverfront theatre and arts centre.

A 3D digital record of the ship's structure has been made from hundreds of timbers recovered from the scene.

Lasers and plastic dust are now being employed to reconstruct the hull.

The four-year ShipShape project is being led by the University of Wales Lampeter in conjunction with Newport City Council, and is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

The project will see the ship reproduced in a precise 1:10 scale model by a team at Cardiff University's Manufacturing Engineering Centre (MEC).

They are using timbers and a method called Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), a fast process using laser beams to selectively melt successive layers of fine plastic dust.

Newport ship model
The model should give an accurate impression of the 15th century vessel

Wherever the lasers are directed, the plastic dust is melted. When the lasers are switched off, the powder remains unmelted, and creates a void.

This will allow the archaeologists to accurately model all of the major fastener holes on the ship's timbers.

Nigel Nayling, principal investigator at University of Wales Lampeter, said the modelling would help reconstruct the original size and shape of the vessel, the remains of which have been distorted over centuries of burial.

"Traditional approaches to the research question of what the vessel would have looked like have included the construction of scale research models in fragile materials such as card, which are not suitable," he said.

"We needed to identify a technology which would develop a more robust end product, and one which would deliver much more accurate and detailed results," he added.

Newport medieval ship in the banks of the Usk
The ship was discovered during construction of the Riverfront theatre

"Using the SLS technology at MEC, what we will end up with is an incredibly flexible scale model allowing the archaeologists to gently reshape the hull."

Geraint Evans, MEC Business Manager, said: "Selective Laser Sintering technology has the ability to easily make very complex geometries directly from digital data.

"With the use of this technology we are able to produce scaled models of the ship, including all the bolt holes and fastenings for Nigel and his team to reconstruct accurately."

Upon completion, the model will serve as a three-dimensional blueprint on which to base the eventual reassembly and display of the vessel.

It will measure nearly 3.5m in length and 0.8m in width, and will be on display for the public.

Toby N Jones, curator for the Newport Medieval Ship Project, said: "The laser-sintered model will help members of the public understand the immense size of the vessel as well as understand some of the complex construction details."

Scientists removing powder
Scientists removing powder as part of a layer-by-layer process in the modelling

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