In a paper published online this week in the Soil Science Society of America Journal, a team of researchers headed by Philippe Baveye explored the potential of manufacturing soil science equipment using 3D printing
The soil scientists are now taking advantage of 3D printing: they found that the technology has major benefits over traditional manufacturing methods, and they were able to successfully produce intricate pieces. Also, the ability to easily share the designs used by 3D printers could allow for better replication of experiments and collaboration among soil scientists.
Baveye’s team used the technology to create parts of a permeameter, a device used to measure the hydraulic conductivity of soils. Traditionally, this type of equipment is made using lathes and drills. However, those techniques are painstaking and time-consuming. Also, traditional methods cannot create intricate designs or incorporate certain features such as non-concentric structures. Moreover, once a product is made, researchers are resistant to making changes even if the piece would work better if modified.
Baveye and his colleagues found that by using a 3D printer to create their design of the permeameter parts, they were able to avoid several of these problems of traditional equipment manufacturing. Many designs that used to be impossible to make, such as intricate conduits, can now be easily worked into the 3D printing models. Also, once a piece is designed and even manufactured, changes to the product can be easily made in the computer model and printed anew.
(a)CAD of basic permeameter assembly, (b) headpiece design, (c) 3D printed headpiece. Source: 3ders.org