You might be surprised to find out just how much one fire department in Texas has come to depend on 3D printing—and why. Due to the self-sustainability and on-demand creation allowed though with access to software and hardware for 3D printing, the Magnolia Fire Department caught on quickly to the positives of this progressive technology. They realized a need as far back as 2011 when a major fire knocked out power and most lines of communication to the public. Many people were coming by the fire department for information, but the firefighters were busy out doing what they do best—fighting smoke and flames.
Assistant Fire Chief and Chief of Technology Chuck Grant, who has come on board with the Magnolia Fire Department since that time, states that they needed to find a way to alert the public about what was going on even if no one was there. They did this through creating LED signs, along with making a new logo. As the project began to snowball, the department looked for a way to create fire hydrants on the sides of station sides at each location. With two for each, they would need a total of 18 fabricated fire hydrants.
Budget constraints caused numerous obstacles for this project until they discovered the idea of 3D printing with the Gigabot 3D printer from re:3D. They were able to purchase one for the department, and Chuck Grant’s experience with 3D modeling helped immensely.
“It was just a matter of scaling something up from, say, an inch tall to 99 inches,” he said. “And the Gigabot was able to do that for us.”
Once they finished with that project, the department wanted to make their expenditure worthwhile. Realizing that they could put the 3D printers to use in enhancing their use of RFID (radio frequency identification device) tags, they began exploring design and materials.
The tags are affixed to different objects with an adhesive backing.
“Because the fire service is a tough place to be a little tag, the adhesive strips on the back don’t hold up as well as they would in another application,” continued Grant.
They began creating tag holders for the RFIDs, making a suitable base for adhesive, as well as keeping the tags safe from getting knocked around.
“All of our items have been well-designed, they’re well-engineered, and so for us to just take something and stick it on the side of it isn’t really a great option,” Grant explains.
With all the successful 3D printing activity, the team was more than able to justify purchasing the Gigabot.
“We certainly had this sign project that’s important…it’s going to be the thing that people notice the most because it’s going to be out in front of the building,” Grant says. “But long-term, to get the most out of our investment, we need that secondary…task for the Gigabot to do.”
They have continued, with making custom parts on demand; for example, the team created a 3D printed system for hanging firefighter’s masks—rather them letting them sit on the floors of the firetrucks. Like so many others becoming involved with 3D printing, they realized in short order that they did not need to seek out a third party but could just design and fabricate their own parts.
As their journey has progressed, they have also impressed 3D printing veteran Morgan Hamel of re:3D:
“Even having been in the 3D printing industry for going on five years, I’m still continually impressed by the wide variety of our users’ applications of the technology. The ingenuity of the solutions they’re creating for their unique situations is diverse, creative, and keeps my job really interesting! The Magnolia Fire Department is no exception — I visited one of their stations earlier this year and got to spend the day with them learning about how and why they found their way to 3D printing and got a Gigabot for the department,” Hamel told 3DPrint.com.
“Their decision to get a 3D printer originally started with their sign project, so they found Gigabot because they were looking for a printer with a build volume large enough to accommodate the oversized decorative fire hydrants they needed to produce. The justification to get a printer ultimately came from the department’s long-term, ongoing projects involving producing RFID tag holders and other custom parts for their nine stations. Gigabot has opened doors for them in the sense that they’re not limited to solutions that they can find in the mass market. If they have an idea for a part that would make their lives easier in some way, Chuck can design it in CAD and they can have a printed prototype essentially same-day. This is in stark contrast to the way that some of these guys have seen it done in the past at other departments — some of them have sat through months-long iteration processes for a component that took Magnolia just days to create.”
As re:3D continues to delve into new uses for 3D printing, the company is seeing applications pop up in sometimes unexpected quarters.
Hamel has just informed us also that re:3D will be kicking off a Kickstarter campaign soon for a new 3D printer that the company is excited about. Find out more at their Facebook page, and you can also follow the Magnolia Fire Department here.
More on this story can be seen in these videos:
What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts! Join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com.[Images/videos: re:3D]