Printfrastructure & The Water Sector
As the landscape changes around us, in line with the impacts of climate change and rising global temperatures, it will become increasingly important to evolve alongside… and this inevitably means finding new ways of working and navigating life in the 21st century and beyond.
It’s always interesting to see what innovative technology is coming to the fore to help both adapt to and mitigate the risks of climate change and it seems that ‘printfrastructure’ is starting to make some serious waves, with 3D printing now being used in a variety of ways to help cut carbon and boost efficiencies.
In the past, manufacturing has been a subtractive way of working, with a source material used and parts extracted from it. But with 3D printing, the opposite is true and, in fact, it’s an additive process, with differing parts being built up layer by layer, entirely from scratch.
The benefits of this are clear, with manufacturers and construction contractors able to make parts quickly and cost-effectively, while simultaneously driving down wastage.
Last year, for example, the Skanska Costain STRABAG JV team working on the HS2 project announced that it would start testing out cutting-edge printfrastructure technology to see if the process could potentially halve associated carbon emissions.
Computer-operated robots will be used to print reinforced concrete, which can then be used to build structures on site, rather than transporting precast slabs by road and then using large cranes to assemble and lower them in place.
Because the technology is both flexible and mobile, it means that it can be used in smaller and more restricted spaces, thus reducing the need to devise complex and expensive logistics. It also successfully delivers a low-carbon quick-drying construction solution that can help save teams time.
Andrew Duck, temporary works manager with Skanska Costain, said: “Automation enabled by printfrastructure’s 3D reinforced concrete printing creates a factory-like environment that delivers a high-quality product that both increases efficient use of materials and reduces our carbon footprint.
“It is important that we give technologies such as printfrastructure the opportunity to flourish because of the possibilities it offers the industry to make a step change in how projects are delivered.”
Where the water sector is concerned, it seems that there is now growing interest in this new way of working. Just last month (September), water supplier United Utilities and technology company Changemaker 3D came together to successfully design, print and install a waste chamber at a test facility in Cheshire – in what is thought to be a UK first.
These chambers were selected as the best component to showcase just how valuable printfrastructure can be, given how traditionally carbon intensive the manufacturing process is for such products.
Chamber testing has now been completed, according to Utility Week, with a 25 per cent reduction in carbon recorded, as well as 20 per cent cost savings and a 55 per cent drop in labour, when compared to more traditional ways of working. The chamber itself was also printed in less than four hours, with reduced need to work at height or in confined spaces.
Changemaker 3D uses a printing process that supports building information modelling and digital twin technology. Software is used to convert design files into 3D printing codes, which then guide a robotic arm to pipe out quick-drying mortar. The parts created are either printed in situ or later craned into position.
The idea is that this project will help develop a digital library of water treatment components that can be used in the future.
Lisa Mansell, chief innovation engineer with United Utilities, was quoted by the news source as saying: “Through the process, we’ve been able to carry out all the rigorous testing we would want around strength, durability and water tightness.
“This is important for giving our construction partners comfort around the new technology, because ultimately, we’ll be asking some of them to adopt it.”
Over in Singapore, meanwhile, NanoSun (a startup launched by the Nanyang Technological University) has been developing a new nanofibre anti-fouling filter membrane using 3D printing.
Speaking to Australian Water Magazine, founder Darren Sun explained that the component has been inspired by how trees transmit water, saying: “It simulates the natural phenomena where leaves can always take water from tree roots, no matter how big the tree is, without a large amount of pressure.”
“An advantage of our design is we need less membrane to filter the same amount of water, compared with the conventional polymer and ceramic membranes, which can become irreversibly blocked. The only way to fabricate this membrane is with 3D printing,” he said.
It’s possible that 3D printing could even be used to help address the issue of water inequality. One of the biggest challenges that the world faces is lack of access to clean water, with around 30 per cent of people globally suffering to find a responsibly managed source of drinking water.
Liquidity Nanotech is just one of several companies that have been working to produce 3D printed water filters, with its Naked Filter water bottle designed to make a significant impact on waterborne illnesses, which is one of the biggest health issues in the world.
Electro-spinning 3D printing technology is used to provide high-quality bacterial filtration at flow rates that wouldn’t have been possible in the past. It has been found to successfully remove 99.9999 per cent of bacteria in water, leaving it free from microorganisms, as well as any added chemicals.
The United Nations recognises access to water and sanitation as human rights, but with billions of people worldwide still living without either of these, products such as the Naked Water filter could really come into their own.
It will certainly be interesting to see how 3D printing can revolutionise the water sector in the future and what other products start to come to the fore. We’ll be watching this space so will keep you abreast of any and all developments.
Meanwhile, if you want to find how you can reduce the water footprint of your business and start operating more sustainably, get in touch with the SwitchWaterSupplier.com team today to see how we can help.