Mar 6, 2018 | By Tess

A team of researchers from Deakin University in Australia has used 3D printing to manufacture spare parts in extreme conditions. Armed with just a 3D printer, laptop, and plastic waste, the team successfully demonstrated how to 3D print a pipe replacement part during a cyclone in the Solomon Islands. The researchers, led by led by Dr. Mazher Mohammed, hope to introduce 3D printing technology to locals on the island for future disaster relief efforts.

The Deakin University researchers went over to the Solomon Islands in January during a particularly stormy season to test how 3D printing technology would do in rough conditions, and to see if a 3D printer would be a viable solution for residents of the island. This particular 3D printer was portable, capable of processing recycled plastic, and able to run on solar power.

The specific goal of the project was to 3D print a replacement part for a damaged water pipe in the town of Visale, just down the coast from the Soloman Islands’ capital city of Honiara. The pipe in question had long been damaged and was patched together at various points with materials like bike tires, bamboo, and garden hose material.

“When government or charities go and do maintenance in these remote towns, you often get out there and don’t have the specific parts you need in the right sizes,” explained Tom Rankin, the program manager of Plan International, a charity that collaborated on the 3D printing project. “And the travel to these sites, it makes it really expensive. These waterpipe parts have been prohibitively expensive in the Solomons.”

By 3D printing a perfectly fitted part for the water pipe on the spot, the Deakin University team was hoping to show how additive manufacturing can be used locally to produce these specific parts on demand and, importantly, at a low cost.

So, in the midst of torrential rains and powerful cyclonic winds, Dr. Mohammed and his team painstakingly turned plastic waste like water bottles and old keyboards into 3D printable pellets by grinding them up, also designing plastic connectors for the pipe on a laptop and sending the files to the solar-powered 3D printer.

Impressively, the 3D printed connector was a perfect fit and the researchers were able to repair part of the busted water pipe. “We wanted it to be rough and ready, and see if we could do it in real circumstances,” Dr. Mohammed explains. “You grind the plastic, throw it in the machine, feed it through, and then the printer just takes care of the rest of it.”

Ultimately, the researchers hope to commercialize their solar-powered 3D printer and develop a library of ready-to-print designs that residents of the Solomon Islands could use. The whole 3D printer setup, including the plastic grinding mechanism and presumably the laptop, is expected to cost less than $10,000, so charities and other relief organizations could deploy the additive systems to areas in need.

(Images: Dr. Mazher Mohammed / The Sydney Morning Herald)

With the Solomon Islands currently undergoing more serious flooding caused by rainfall, 3D printers able to turn out replacement parts for a number of damaged structures will certainly be in need.

In 2016, Oxfam used 3D printing to create replacement parts in Nepal after the country was ravaged by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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