3D Printing Contributing to Underwater Conservation
Artificial reefs are essential for conservation work in many parts of the world. Construction-scale 3D printers have been used — experimentally — by an Australian-Bahraini team to create artificial reefs.
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For anyone that has been lucky enough to see coral reefs up close, or even studied them on film or in pictures, it is immediately apparent they are a complex underwater habitat. However, much of the world’s subaqueous reef environment has been — and is being — destroyed. Artificial reefs are a vital part of the conservation work to save and protect these beautiful and vital domains — and 3D printing is potentially a technology that can contribute to this work.
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Currently, artificial reefs are generally created using precast concrete, but the complex nature of reefs makes this a trickly and sometimes impossible thing to do using traditional moulding techniques. However, complexity has never been a problem for 3D printing technology. The major hurdle here is scale.
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A global team of reef experts, led by Sustainable Oceans International (SOI), has been experimenting with an advanced construction size 3D printer to design and build artificial reefs using a patented sandstone material. The first reefs off the printer, which reportedly look and function as natural reefs, are 1 metre high and weigh 500 kg. And the 3D printing process has enabled the team to create complex artificial reefs that were previously thought impossible.
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“We currently use one of the most natural looking concrete and mould systems available to build our reefs, but these 3D printed units are amazing in comparison. You can’t tell the difference from real rock and the advantage is that we can engineer them to have very specific features that suit target marine species,” said David Lennon, Director of SOI.
The 3D printing process allows infinite variations of each unit — a true reflection of nature itself.
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David added, “This is very exciting for us and it’s what I imagine it was like to watch the first plane take off in 1903 – witnessing the birth of a new era. It is a reflection of how advances in manufacturing technology can help us repair human impacts on the environment.”