3D Printing to Help Safeguard Global Families from Water-Borne Diseases

What’s the most important thing to life? Perhaps you think it’s a good job, or a great education. Maybe for you it’s a spacious home or a new car. Maybe it’s enough food on the table.

For billions of people around the world, it has nothing to do with all that – it’s clean water.

Westerners often take access to clean, drinkable water for granted. You turn on the tap and what comes out is perfectly drinkable. That’s not a situation the majority of the world enjoys (and one that’s changing, even in the US as drought takes its toll).

While a lack of water is the problem for some areas, others have plenty of it – it’s just not fit to drink. Chemicals, toxins, viruses and more make seemingly perfectly clean water dangerous to drink. Compound a natural lack of clean water with flooding due to shifting weather patterns and intensifying rainy seasons and you have a recipe for disaster.

Water testing is often not possible for people living in these areas. It’s out of reach. 3D printing might just have the answer, though.

The Role of 3D Printing

Once water purity has been tested, a purification system can be installed. However, testing is needed to determine just what sort of purification system is needed, the scope of that system, the water-borne illnesses that must be combatted and more.

It’s also needed to test the purified water to ensure that the purification system is actually doing its job.

One 3D printing project promises to do all that and more. A research group at the Michigan Technological Institute designed an open source water-testing platform built with 3D printing technology.

It was designed using OpenSCAD, and used open source electronic components, as well as 3D printable components (with open source plans, of course).

It’s actually a pretty simple design that includes little more than a microcontroller, an LED display shield and an Arduino. Inside the microcontroller is flash memory installed to store software for measuring water quality.

All water testing is accomplished using light, rather than chemicals. LED intensity is used as the baseline, and then to measure things like turbidity, light reflection and transmission. The results of these calculations are displayed on the LED screen.

The team used a RepRap 3D printer extruding PLA (black) to create the case itself. Black is the best color choice not for aesthetic reasons, but because it reduces the potential for stray light fouling the tests. Proven to be both accurate and easy to use, the tester is also portable and costs up to 15 times less than conventional water testing equipment currently on the market.

The university group has also made the plans for their tester open source and available online for anyone to download and print.

3D printing is often touted for its ability to bring a competitive advantage to businesses and entrepreneurs, but it’s also an important technology for humanitarian efforts and for safeguarding the health of people around the world.

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