Jul 19, 2017 | By Tess

A research team from the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus has developed a 3D printed quality sensor device that is capable of monitoring drinking water. The small device, which gives feedback in real time, was designed to reduce the risk of waterborne illnesses, such as E. coli infections.

Professor Mina Hoorfar, Director UBC Okanagan School of Engineering

(Image: UBC Okanagan)

The project, which is being led by Professor Mina Hoorfar, the director of UBC’s School of Engineering, offers a low-cost and reliable way to test drinking water. As Hoorfar explained, the 3D printed device is built to operate continuously and to be used at any point in the water distribution system.

Importantly, the 3D printed tool offers an alternative to current water testing methods, which rely on manual testing and which cannot be done as frequently as an automated testing system. “Current water safety practice involves only periodic hand testing, which limits sampling frequency and leads to a higher probably of disease outbreak," said Hoorfar. "Traditional water quality sensors have been too expensive and unreliable to use across an entire water system.”

The new water testing devices created by UBC researchers can overcome this challenge. Because they are 3D printed, they can be made quickly and cheaply, which means they can be repaired or replaced with ease as well.

3D printed at UBC’s Advanced Thermo-Fluidic lab, the sensor-equipped devices are designed to operate wirelessly, and can read water samples no matter what the temperature or water pressure is. The researchers say that the devices were also created to work independently, which allows the water testing system to keep working, whether or not there is a problem with one of the devices.

"This highly portable sensor system is capable of constantly measuring several water quality parameters such as turbidity, pH, conductivity, temperature, and residual chlorine, and sending the data to a central system wirelessly. It is a unique and effective technology that can revolutionize the water industry,” said Hoorfar.

The idea behind the 3D printed water testers is to increase water safety, even in places where water testing is already pretty stringent. Hoorfar uses the tragic example of Walkerton, Ontario, where hundreds of people fell ill and four died from water tainted with E. coli.

"Although the majority of water-related diseases occur in lower- or middle-income countries, water quality events in Walkerton, for example, raise serious questions about consistent water safety in even developed countries like Canada," she said. "Many of these tragedies could be prevented with frequent monitoring and early detection of pathogens causing the outbreak."

Unlike current water testing processes, which are “upstream” of the water distribution system, the 3D printed devices could be deployed virtually anywhere, even within homes. This, said Hoorfar, could provide an extra layer of water safety and protect consumers from any tainted or unsafe water.

The study was recently published in the journal Sensors. The full research report can be found here.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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