[Image: Benjamin Kerensa]

In December 2017, a fire started in California that would turn out to be the state’s largest wildfire. It raged for more than six months in Los Padres National Forest, until officials finally announced that it had been extinguished. That fire was just the beginning, though – in dry states like California, fire season officially begins at the beginning of June, and this year is shaping up to be a hot and dry one, with meteorologists expecting the kinds of conditions that are ideal for wildfires to start and spread.

Fire crews need to be as prepared as they possibly can for the fires to come, and that means being armed with the latest technology. Fire equipment has come a long way over the last few decades, resulting in better safety for fire crews as well as more effectiveness in fighting fires. There’s still plenty of room for improvement, though, and 3D printing can play a role in that improvement.

[Image: Marcus Kauffman]

Fire crews often use floating pumps, which can be used to pump as much as 1000 dm3 of water per minute. These pumps must be optimized by correlating their operating characteristics, like pressure and efficiency, with engine operation, like power and engine speed. Sinterit, maker of the Lisa desktop SLS 3D printer, was recently responsible for the redesign of a floating pump to better optimize it. The rotor blades were redesigned in a process that, using conventional prototyping techniques, would involve eight successive stages, including 2D documentation, casting and processing.

Instead, the designers used 3D printing, which reduced the necessary stages to only two. The 3D model was created, and it was then printed on the Lisa – that’s all. No machining or polishing was needed, and since holes could be designed right into the model, they didn’t need to be drilled or tapped. In addition, SLS 3D printing does not require supports, so that element of post-processing was unnecessary.

Overall, the production of the rotor blades was accelerated by 30 percent. Not only did the precision of the part and the lack of post-processing speed up the process, but if the part needed to be altered, it could easily be done in the software before printing out a new part. Thanks to the isotropic and mechanical properties of the SLS powder, the prototype part was fully suited to testing in real-life situations before creating the final version.

The massive wildfire in California may have been put out, but currently wildfires are burning in Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico, thanks to an unusually hot spring, a winter with little snowfall, and the carelessness of campers who are failing to extinguish their campfires. Large portions of national forests are being closed off to the public, and thousands are being forced to evacuate from their homes. This is just the start of what looks like it’s going to be an active and dangerous fire season across the American West. Firefighters can use all the help that they can get, and whether that’s a more efficiently prototyped part, sensors to offer earlier warnings, or other necessary parts, 3D printing can play a large role in fighting this ongoing battle.

[Image: Vince Fleming]

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below.

[All images provided by Sinterit]

 

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