Jun 15, 2015 | By Alec

While 3D printed plastic components are already being widely used to replace all sorts of components in a larger number of fields, you sometimes can’t help but wonder if that’s always a great idea. After all, 3D printed components consisting of layers are typically not as strong as injection molded parts, so many people think twice before using them on crucial components. For what will happen when exposed to the elements, to large amounts of pressure, and so on?

Well the best way to answer that question is testing it. That is exactly what researcher and 3D printing enthusiast Martin Baumers and his team answered. Over the last few months, they have been working on project Deep-Z: a non-academic and hands-on research project funded by private individuals. The Goal? 'To find out whether 3D printing can be used to build low cost devices for deep water exploration,’ Baumers writes on the project’s webpage. To test this, they sent a 3D printed submarine (manned by a LEGO diver) to the depths of an unusually deep lake in May 2015, of which you can see the report in the clip below. The lake in question was the large and deep Lago d’Iseo, in northern Italy.

And to take the pressure off, the test was successful. The 3D printed contraption sunk to the depths of Lago d’Iseo without any problems, and came up again without any signs of it breaking apart under the immense pressure of thousands of gallons of water. This means that 3D printed parts can definitely be used for deep-water applications as well.

As Baumers explains, the project began with building a 3D printed waterproof housing for a GoPro camera that could film the exploits of Jacques the LEGO diver. Attached to a metal wire capable of sinking 200 meters down into the water and pressure resistant LEDs to make Jacques’s life a bit easier. ‘We didn't use any desiccants (water absorbing substances) as the camera, a GoPro Hero, already has a water resistant housing. Additionally, we felt that any equipment failure at depths of around 200m would destroy the camera anyway. […] To make sure that Jacques the Lego diver stays in the seat of his submarine he was glued in place using an Epoxy resin,’ Baumers says.

The little 3D printed submarine that travelled to the depths of the lake (as well as the camera and light housings) was made from Nylon using Laser Sintering technology. ‘This material is quite strong for a plastic and reliably produces parts that can be used for demanding applications,’ Baumers says. All STL files for these parts can be downloaded from the project’s webpage here as well. The results, at any rate, speak for themselves. While we suspect that more tests in different circumstances will be required before definite conclusions can be drawn – for instance, what happens in salt water or in very wild waters? – this definitely opens up a whole new field of possibilities. Perhaps 3D printed underwater drones are just around the corner? 



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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