Feb.7, 2013

CSIRO scientists are using 3D printing to build a new generation of hi-tech fish tags made of titanium. The aim is to use the tags to track big fish such as marlin, tuna, swordfish, trevally and sharks for longer periods.

(The latest 3D printed fish tag | Credit: CSIRO)

CSIRO is printing the tags at its 3D printing facility, Lab 22, in Melbourne. This Arcam additive manufacturing facility is the first in the southern hemisphere to provide industry with access to advanced electron beam melting technologies for 3D printing of metals.

The 3D printed fish tags are printed overnight and then shipped to Tasmania where marine scientists are trialing them. Traditionally to machine these metal blocks would have taken a couple of months to design, manufacture and receive the new designs for testing.

Tags are made of titanium for several reasons: the metal is strong, resists the salty corrosiveness of the marine environment, and is biocompatible (non-toxic to living tissues).

One of the advantages of 3D printing is that it enables rapid manufacture of multiple design variations which can then be tested simultaneously. "Using our Arcam 3D printing machine, we've been able to re-design and make a series of modified tags within a week," says John Barnes, who leads CSIRO's research in titanium technologies.

A line-up of fish tags, showing progression of the design from earliest (far left) to latest (far right). | Credit: CSIRO


"When our marine science colleagues asked us to help build a better fish tag, we were able to send them new prototypes before their next trip to sea," he adds. "The fast turnaround speeds up the design process – it's very easy to incorporate amendments to designs. 3D printing enables very fast testing of new product designs, which why it's so attractive to manufacturers wanting to trial new products."

"Our early trials showed that the textured surface worked well in improving retention of the tag, but we need to fine-tune the design of the tag tip to make sure that it pierces the fish skin as easily as possible," says John.

Medical implants such as dental implants and hip joints are made of biocompatible titanium with a surface texturing which speeds healing and tissue attachment after implantation. Scientists hope that a similar rough surface will help the tag to stay in fish longer.

"A streamlined tag that easily penetrates the fish's skin, but has improved longevity because it integrates with muscle and cartilage, would be of great interest to our colleagues conducting tagging programs across the world," said CSIRO marine researcher, Russell Bradford.

Check out tracks of tagged fish and 3D animations of fish in their underwater environment on CSIRO's site.

 

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Posted in 3D Printing Applications

 

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