Women of Steel left-hand head

Sheffield has a long tradition of industry, especially in terms of steel: it has sometimes even been referred to as Steel City. In fact, according to the History UK website, Sheffield cutlery was first mentioned in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, dating that industry to at least the late 1300s. So it’s likely of little surprise to you that Sheffield also has some excellent works of public art commemorating their industrial past. But Sheffield also suffered terribly in the Second World War, being bombed a number of times by the German Luftwaffe, causing much damage and loss of life. And, during those long war years, the loss of labour to the armed forces left a gap in the steel industry labour force that could have brought steel production to its knees. So, it’s very fitting that one of Sheffield City Centre’s best pieces of public art depicts the role that the women of the city played in preventing that disaster: the Women of Steel sculpture.

Women of Steel (left-hand head)
Women of Steel (left-hand head)

Quick summary of this 3D creation
Overview: A basic scan of the left-hand head on the ‘Women of Steel’ sculpture in Sheffield, commemorating the role women played in keeping the steel industry operating during the Second World War.
Location: Sheffield City Hall, Sheffield, England, United Kingdom [map].
Date/era: Modern, 2016.
Software used: Sony 3DCreator Android app, Meshmixer.
Intended use: 3D printing, either in resin or fused filament.

This scan is only of the head of the left-most woman on this wonderful Women of Steel sculpture. You can find it right in front of Sheffield City Hall, in Sheffield city centre, in the UK (click here to see the right-hand head scan). The sculpture is intended to celebrate the importance of women in the Sheffield steel industry, especially during the world wars when the industry would have ground to a halt without them. It was designed and sculpted by Martin Jennings and was unveiled in June 2016, subsequently winning a number of important awards in the art and public monuments world (see the Women of Steel Wikipedia page for more details).

It’s a wonderful, life size, sculpture and one which Sheffield residents can rightly be proud of. And of course it’s very nice to see such powerful public art depicting real-life working women for a change, rather than the usual British categories of Queen Victoria, some bloke on a horse, and some bloke not on a horse. Plus, given that Sheffield can get a bit chilly in the winter, it’s nice to see public art of women that involves them wearing clothes. It’s been widely reported that statues of women in the UK are generally naked mythical people, so I think great kudos should go to Martin Jennings and the Sheffield council for deciding to make something informative, beautiful and, above all else, inspirational.

The scan was made with the Sony 3D Creator app on an Xperia XZ1 Compact smartphone, which did a good job considering the shiny metal surface. Obviously, as a free smartphone app based on photogrammetry, 3DCreator wasn’t able to accurately reflect the sharp edges and creases in the original, but that shouldn’t take away any credit to it for producing a scan perfectly suitable for 3D printing at small sizes. In fact, the head was scanned while attempting a scan of the full sculpture, but was subsequently extracted from it so it could be printed to a higher detail level. The scanned model was then post-processed using Meshmixer to remove extraneous areas and to remesh to a sensible file size.

As the model was intended for 3D printing, the file size may not seem very important, which is mostly true. However, Meshmixer does a good job of significantly reducing file size, and hence the vertex and face counts, without worrying loss of detail, often to a quarter of the original size. I achieve that by using the sharp edge preserving setting when remeshing, which helps ensure details remain even though the rest of the mesh is greatly decimated. And the smaller file size helps with ensuring fast loading in the Sketchfab viewer, as well as meaning you can download it quickly. You can see the finished model on Sketchfab below (click the play button to load the model and view it in 3D).

The 3D model on Sketchfab

The 3D printed head on the left of the photo below was printed in PLA using an XYZPrinting DaVinci Jr printer. It did a pretty good job of outputting a model for painting, although you can see in the photo that layer lines intruded somewhat on the look. I could have got over that with some high-build primer, or vigorous filing and sanding, but I decided that it wouldn’t be viewed closely and so decided not to worry too much about it. The print was then painted using Pebeo gold-effect acrylic (bronze may have been more authentic, but gold looks nice too and makes details more visible on small prints). A coat of matt varnish then helped reduce the glossiness of the gold paint, which I think gave it a nice look. If you want to try 3D printing it yourself, click here to go to the MyMiniFactory page to download it.

Women of Steel left-hand head 3D print
Women of Steel left-hand head 3D print

So finally, in case you’d like to use the methods in this project for your own work, let’s recap on what was involved:

  • The Sony 3DCreator Android app was used to create a basic 3D scan on a smartphone, which provided a good representation albeit with loss of sharp edge details.
  • On a PC Meshmixer was used to cut away unwanted material and solidify/remesh the model to achieve a much smaller file size.
  • The finished 3D model was then test printed in PLA, and found to print to an acceptable quality.
  • Due to the limited amount of detail in the final model, resin printing wouldn’t have a significant advantage unless a very small print is required.

Please note that this scan is provided without any license for commercial use. It is intended simply as a model you can have the fun of printing yourself. And of course it is intended to be a motivation for you to visit Sheffield yourself, soaking up the culture and history while popping over to Sheffield City Hall to view the wonderful Women of Steel sculpture: click here to see the location in Google Maps.

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