After more than 500 years and 40 popes, the Swiss Guard is dropping its classic metal helmets and adopting 3D-printed ones made of plastic–PA-12, to be exact.
Why 3D-print such a long-standing part of Vatican tradition? The Swiss Guard has been around since the 1500s, after all. For starters, the new PA-12 helmets are lightweight and UV resistant, which makes them more comfortable than the traditional steel version–which could heat up during the hot Roman summers and burn the guards. They’re water resistant too, so they don’t need to be polished constantly to avoid rust.
The new helmets were created using HP’s “Multi Jet Fusion” tech, which is the company’s commercial 3D-printing product aimed at enterprise customers who need to fabricate final manufactured parts–quickly. At almost $1,000 a pop, they are not cheap. But they are cheaper than the traditional model, which cost $2,000 to make and took 100 hours of forging. In contrast, the printed model materializes from molten PA-12 in just 14 hours, complete with the coat of arms of Pope Julius II, also known as “the Warrior,” who founded the guard in 1506.
As to the design, nothing has changed: The original helmets were scanned to create a 3D model upon which to base the new version, so the printed helmets have the same texture and look as the originals–tourists won’t notice the difference. The final product actually includes two versions: the “day” model that looks like it’s made out of metal and a special ceremonial helmet that’s black with red feathers. Both were were presented by the Swiss Guard’s commander Cristoph Graf last year.
Though they’re nearly indistinguishable, it’s still plastic–and it’s fun to imagine what the Warrior Pope would think of the new version.