Jul 25, 2017 | By Tess

Researchers from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia have demonstrated how 3D printing can be used to manufacture low-cost, disposable sensors that give early warnings for such hazards as forest fires or chemical leaks. According to the research team, the 3D printed sensors could “revolutionize environmental monitoring.”

While your fire detector going off while you cook food can be a nuisance, it is important to remember that the screeching device actually helps to save lives. Still, if you live somewhere that is prone to forest fires, a standard fire alarm warning might be too late. That’s why a team of researchers from KAUST are developing a series of 3D printed sensors that can be used as early warning systems.

As the researchers explain, early warning systems do already exist—satellite monitoring, watch towers, or fixed sensors, for instance—though they are expensive and in most cases limited. Their idea, then, was to create low-cost, disposable sensor system which could “saturate” high-risk areas with early warning alarms.

The 3D printed sensors, which can detect gases, changes in air temperature, and humidity, are designed to be installed all over high-risk areas. Each of the sensor nodes deployed can be wirelessly linked to a slightly more advanced sensor which emits an alarm. The system could be crucial in alerting people about forest fires or things like chemical leaks.

Led by Atif Shamim, an associate professor of electrical engineering, the KAUST team recently published a proof-of-concept study about the 3D printed sensors in the journal Advanced Materials Technologies.

Made using a combination of 3D printing and inkjet printing, the early detection sensors are capable of distinguishing changes in temperature and humidity (first signs of a forest fire), as well as the presence of hydrogen sulfide, a highly poisonous, corrosive, and flammable industrial gas.

At present, the sensors are fabricated by 3D printing a small node in which a battery and microelectronic circuit board and antenna are installed. The sensor-portion itself is inkjet-printed onto the 3D printed node. In the future, the researchers say they plan to make the early detection system using a “single machine” which will enable them to reduce production times.

The sensor system has proven itself to be resistant, having survived drop-tests, as well as temperatures of up to 70ºC. Shamim assures that this “is good enough to give an early warning in cases of wild fire.”

The team also says it plans to improve its 3D printed sensors by integrating an energy source, which will eliminate the need for a battery, thus cutting back on cost. “Inkjet-printed solar cells have already been demonstrated,” said Shamim. “Eventually we want to get rid of the battery entirely.” This, he says, would also make it easier to deploy the system in remote regions.

By improving the 3D printed sensors, the KAUST team ultimately hopes to mass-produce its life-saving system, and claims the cost of the technology could be less than a dollar per sensor node.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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