3d printers

Earth’s coral population has dropped by 50% – Here’s how Formlabs 3D printers are helping research that aims to help

Researchers at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) use Formlabs 3D printing to help obtain reproducible and customizable parts for coral reef research and monitoring.

Two Form 2 and two Form 3 SLA printers are used as well as the Fuse 1 SLS printer. The NOAA team Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML) print structures built to study the physical condition of corals and methods to improve the resilience of corals to rising water temperatures and the extremes of a changing climate.

Structures printed by the team of Nate Formel and colleagues include rugged sampler housings, jigs for sensors and experimental equipment, and custom components for internal aquariums.

Corals are colonial organisms, usually made up of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of individual polyps, each with a complex consortium of microorganisms that contribute to their health and nutrition.

Corals are vital to the health of the global ecosystem, but a study published in One Earth found that since 1950 more than half of the world’s coral population has been wiped out.

The AOML Coral program where Formel works is in partnership with the University of Miami Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS) turned to 3D printing to facilitate its research in the field and in the laboratory. The organization said the use of Formlabs printers has helped standardize, as well as improve the accuracy and comparability of experiments and facilitate the development of new technologies.

The program started with a desktop FDM unit, but was quickly interrupted by the issue of leaky FDM prints. The way print nozzles lay down materials creates small gaps between layers, allowing water to seep in, damaging delicate internal electronics and sampling motors.

“We now have these very custom 3D-printed components that have the necessary connection points and through-holes to allow us to take water samples. The original sampler design that drove all of this, we stopped making it for $1000 and started making it for $220. This means that I can now output five samplers when I could only output one,” said Formel.

The ability to 3D print waterproof enclosures and assemblies has allowed the team to introduce automation into the breeding of experimental aquariums. 3D printing enclosure for splash proof feeders means automation of coral feeding throughout the night.

Another 3D printed creation was a stir plate waterproof case. They wanted to be able to control the mixing of water in a closed chamber inside their tanks. The submersible stir plate has been incorporated into a new open-source chamber system for rapid coral fitness assessment. This has allowed the technology to remain accessible while keeping costs low, while standardizing and streamlining research.

Speaking about the affordability of the Fuse 1 machine, Formel said, “We haven’t needed any more equipment since buying the machine. The recycling rate is very useful and we are looking for an optimal packaging density. This translates directly into a low cost per part.

Formal also spoke about the desire to innovate, saying, “The potential for creating new things that no one had thought of before has increased with 3D printing because of accessibility. Before this job, I had never invented a play, and now I do it all the time.

As part of fostering this same spirit of invention and innovation for future generations, NOAA AOML and the University of Miami bring college students to the university at the lab for classes and educational tours. The organizations aim to open the eyes of future scientists, engineers and innovators to 3D printing technology while witnessing first-hand how the science of climate protection and restoration works.

Formlabs 3D printing is used for a variety of different applications, it was recently used in the film and television industry when Dreamsmith Studio acquired a Form 3L to create props for Raised by Wolves Season Two.


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