Jun 22, 2017 | By Tess

Advanced manufacturing company FATHOM recently put its 3D printing chops towards a bitingly fascinating project. In collaboration with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), a nonprofit oceanographic research center, the FATHOM team has been using 3D printing to try and uncover the mystery of the "White Shark Café."

What is the White Shark Café? Contrary to what you may have initially though, it is not New York’s new hottest coffee shop. Rather, it's an unexplained migration pattern that Great Whites off the coast of California have exhibited.

As MBARI explains it, every year, when the sharks migrate from the California coast to Hawaii and back, they tend to “hang out” in a particular area that is almost halfway between the two points (hundreds of miles from any coastline). This region, which has become known as the White Shark Café, has puzzled researchers primarily because it does not seem to offer anything that sharks typically seek out, such as a rich marine life.

Also, sharks passing through the “café” have been known to exhibit strange behaviors, such as swimming quickly between the surface of the water and a depth of 250 meters, with brief pauses at certain depths. Strange, but fascinating.

Understandably, oceanographic researchers have been interested in solving the mystery of the shark café and have tried various methods for uncovering its secret attractions. Now, with the help of FATHOM, MBARI believes it might be able to make the equipment it needs to find out more about the enigmatic aquatic region.

The basic idea is to make an “event-triggered” shark-cam which could be fastened to a shark and which could capture video footage of the mysterious White Shark Café. The project builds off of a previous project which tested shark-cams on white sharks in South Africa in 2015.

With the help of 3D printing, MBARI is aiming to create an underwater recording device which would be able to last up to 10 months underwater. Other requirements include a maximum depth of 1200 meters for the video module, a photo/video depth of 200 meters, and the ability to capture up to eight hours of footage using a “Great White Shark Behavior detection algorithm.”

FATHOM, a Silicone Valley-based advanced manufacturing specialist, has collaborated with MBARI on the device’s development as well as its prototyping. For the latter stage, FATHOM used a PolyJet printing technology and VeroClear. The transparent material allowed the team to continually tweak and improve the video attachment design with ease.

MBARI also tested a number of nylon parts made using SLS 3D printing to see strength-to-weight ratios and durability. For the functional prototype (for field testing), the parts were made using FDM 3D printing technology and engineering-grade plastics.

“FDM not only met the critical requirements of the application, it proved to be the most cost-effective option with the greatest flexibility,” reads a blog post by FATHOM. “The MBARI team can 3D print on-demand without having to hold inventory or incur additional costs for design changes in future production runs.”

Will 3D printing help to uncover the mystery of the White Shark Café? We’ll just have to wait and see!

MBARI was founded by David Packard in 1987 and has striven to become a world-class center for ocean science and technology research. The institute has reportedly been using 3D printing in its operations for some time, having seen the benefits of using it for producing complex manifolds, molding tools for syntactic foam parts, and other parts too complex for machining.

 

 

 

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