The introduction of 3D printing has transformed the manufacturing process, and, by extension, the water industry. These changes are easier to understand within the context of the manufacturing process itself, and the ways in which printing technologies have adapted traditional methods of production.
Additive manufacturing has a range of benefits for both efficiency and flexibility. With access to a 3D printer, a manufacturer can produce a part in a shorter span of time, with lower costs and less waste. They also have the capacity to print parts with complex geometry to enhance strength and safety.
Naturally, the implications for additive manufacturing are immense. This article seeks to explore those implications, examining the value of 3D printing for the purification, desalination, and distribution of water in countries around the world. Consider the three examples below.
1. The Naked Filter
The advantages of additive manufacturing have allowed for a variety of new and novel technologies. Liquidity Nanotech launched what they called the “Naked Filter.” It’s similar to a standard portable water bottle in many ways, with the exception of its innovative filtration system.
The filter relies on a nano-fiber membrane made possible through an electro-spinning 3D printing technology. It’s a unique process that involves a liquid polymer and a controlled amount of voltage, creating a filter which is 80% to 90% porous. A traditional filter is approximately 20% porous.
2. HWT System
Emma Emanuelsson, from the University of Bath, designed a water purification device she developed with 3D printing technology. The household water treatment system has taken inspiration from the Solar Disinfection, or SODIS, bottle, which stores water as the sun heats it to a safe temperature.
Emanuelsson has drawn on that concept for her device, a black plastic bin with multiple channels across its surface. As water courses through those channels, the sun heats it and kills pathogens, effectively purifying the water. It’s yet another example of the potential of 3D printing.
3. 3D Printed Turbines
The U.S. Department of Energy and GE have partnered in a program to innovate desalination technology. GE plans to employ 3D printed turbines to form a “hyper-cooling loop” through the compressed combination of air, salt and water. Upon freezing, the salt separates from the ice.
Given the severity of water scarcity in developing countries, the large-scale efforts of GE and the DOE will prove critical. As context, less than 1% of water on the Earth is unpolluted, potable and fit for consumption. The integration of 3D printed turbines may help to address this global issue.
Moving Toward the Future
The introduction of 3D printing has enabled the development of impressive technologies which have changed the water industry. The Naked Filter, HWT system and 3D printed turbines are only several examples among many others. As we move through 2019 into the next decade, it’s safe to speculate that innovators will continue to explore the capacity of 3D printers to incredible effect.
More than this, the widespread distribution and adoption of the technologies above will support the demands of a growing population. With the power of additive manufacturing — and the sustained effort of scientists and engineers — we’ll have the means to provide clean drinking water for disadvantaged groups of people around the world.
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