Oct 10, 2017 | By Benedict

Texas-based 3D printing company re:3D has installed a Gigabot 3D printer at the Fire Department of Magnolia, Texas. The 3D printer has been used to print some fire hydrant-shaped signage, as well as other functional bits and pieces.

It’s been four and a half years since we reported on the launch of the Gigabot, re:3D’s large-format (600 x 600 x 600 mm) 3D printer. Some Kickstarter-backed printer companies of that vintage have come and gone, but Texas-based re:3D is still going strong, having just set up one of its Gigabot 3D printers at the fire department in Magnolia, Texas.

At face value, fire stations don’t seem like they need 3D printers. After all, even the most ambitious flexible filament makers wouldn’t advocate 3D printing a firehose, and what else would the helmeted heroes need a printer for?

According to Magnolia firefighters, the answer is “quite a lot, actually.”

Back in 2011, the department fought the Riley Road Fire, one of the toughest blazes in recent years. It took 10 days to contain, and burned almost 19,000 acres.

The mass blaze brought up several issues. In addition to the destruction caused, the sheer scale of the fire brought about serious logistical problems: cell phone service was hindered by the flames and smoke, meaning many people had no means of communication.

And in a state of emergency, this a big problem: people need to know where to go, and they need to know fast.

As it were, many panicked locals (logically) went to the fire station for advice. Only there was virtually nobody there, because all the firefighters were out trying to tackle the blaze.

The Fire Department needed a way to convey messages simply and immediately, without the use of disrupted phone or internet services.

After the fire was over, the department thought about how they could be better prepared in future. One solution they proposed was the use of a big neon sign that would display vital information in front of Magnolia’s nine fire stations. This way, people could immediately find out what they needed to know.

To make it clear who owned this sign, the department wanted it to be displayed in between two large statues of fire hydrants. Of course, they didn’t have any large replica hydrants to hand, so they explored their options.

Fortunately, this is where they came across re:3D, a Texas business with exactly the right tool to make some giant hydrants: the Gigabot 3D printer.

“It was just a matter of scaling something up from, say, an inch tall to 99 inches,” said Assistant Fire Chief Chuck Grant. “And the Gigabot was able to do that for us.”

Since the department needed to 3D print 18 hydrants (two for each station), the outlay on a Gigabot was just about worth it. But to really get their money’s worth, the firefighters also considered other uses for the large-scale 3D printer.

Interestingly, Grant eventually saw a perfect application for the additive manufacturing machine.

In order to ensure that its fire trucks are ready to go at all times, the Magnolia Fire Department puts RFID tags on all important equipment. This means that firefighters can use a computer to check that everything is onboard a truck before it’s taken out to tackle a fire. If anything is missing, the computer can see that the relevant RFID tag isn’t giving out a signal.

But the Magnolia Fire Department had been encountering problems with these tags: extreme heat and physical stress meant that RFID tags kept getting ripped off equipment.

With the Gigabit to hand, the department realized it could 3D print small plastic tag holders for the RFID tags. These holders can be printed in an easily adhesive material, and can even be tucked away in a place where they won’t be subjected to as much stress.

The department has also used 3D printing to make hangers for helmets, which allow the firefighters to store their headgear in a more convenient place in the truck.

Overall, having the 3D printer on site has allowed the Magnolia Fire Department to come up with immediate solutions to problems.

“Instead of going into the marketplace and kind of having to mold to what is available, we can meet our own needs by drawing our own parts and printing them,” Grant said.

See the department’s 3D printed handiwork in the videos below.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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