“3D printing affords us better customization than traditional CNC which are not able to produce prototypes that are detailed and flexible for prototyping. 3D printing is the only way to go for us,” -Bryan Wong, Chief Technology Officer-
Sensocore, a Singapore-based company that specializes in the production of automated water sensor systems, has managed to achieve time and cost savings of 86% by implementing 3D printing for their Aquafarm Water Sensor System.
Climate change is a global phenomenon that has left fishes susceptible to diseases and ultimately death. Coupled with Singapore’s high humidity that creates plankton blooms frequently, over 500 to 600 tons of fishes from 77 local farms were killed in 2015 and also wiped out more than $1 million in earnings for fish farmers.
Other problems commonly faced by fish farms include:
- Lack of oxygen in the waters due to the lethal combination of dry weather and neap tides (where high tides are at their lowest).
- Test strips that measure water alkali levels aren’t entirely accurate because of human factors and their limitation in only taking measurements of the top pond surface.
- Oil spills not only kill fishes but also damages fishing equipment.
- Inconsistency in measuring the water quality of multiple ponds due to the monotonous nature of the task.
Sensocore was founded as a subsidiary under Camtech Diagnostics, a company that deals with R&D projects and collaborated with Creatz3D in the creation of a short run production process to overcome the challenges in producing their Aquafarm Water Sensor System.
Without real-time monitoring, necessary warnings that help avoid fish stress and mortality might go undetected, and this could lead to the entire fish stock getting wiped out. A water sensor system, however, could mitigate the above-mentioned problems.
Apart from the measurement of water quality in real-time, the proposed sensor system can issue alerts when oxygen, temperature, or pH levels go beyond the threshold. Better decisions can be made regarding the feeding schedule and water management to yield an ideal harvesting rate. (Read More Additive Manufacturing Industry Case Studies)
The sensor system in theory:
- Adjustable parameters to send an alert through SMS/email to notify owner if parameters surpass present threshold.
- Programmable to send an alert every 10 minutes for example if the pond’s acidity surpasses the preset threshold.
- Monitor multiple ponds concurrently with little effort.
- Human errors are reduced due to the automated sensor system.
While staying functional consistently in the water is a key focus, a good product design aids tremendously in terms of handling while also creating value and a competitive advantage.
In addition, the housing must be watertight and durable to guard against possible water seepage that could cause damage to the electronics housed within the system.
Traditional manufacturing was thus not viable in this case as it was not customizable enough to provide the detailed and flexible prototyping that was required.
At any one time, CamTech Diagnostics deals with multiple medical projects concurrently where time is of the essence. Master molds of working prototypes are traditionally CNC machined through injection molding. But the process is typically inflexible and costly, with any design iterations likely to delay the production time further and add extra costs.
Hamstrung invariably by tight schedules and budgetary constraints from traditional manufacturing in producing master molds, CamTech incorporated 3D printing technology into their workflow through the use of silicon molding which was very much a cost-efficient process at this stage. Before acquiring an industrial-grade 3D printer, CamTech utilized a consumer-grade 3D printer but it did not fit in with their desired requirements.
The limitations of consumer-grade 3D printers made it impossible to achieve smooth finishes and accuracy, with long hours of sanding and touching up inevitable due to their porous nature and unevenness. Certain characteristics of the printed model required thin walls, but it could not be replicated accurately via the printer and resulted in the loss of details and features.
Low repetency, warpage, intermittent extrusion, damages during removal of “support structures” or broke/frayed printed parts were also common during the various post-processing processes.
With the desired requirements for thin walls support and a smooth surface finish that resemble end-use parts, they turned to Eden 260Vs, an industry-grade 3D printer that employed PolyJet technology and was within their allocated budget. Eden 260Vs also comes with soluble support option, of which CamTech could leverage upon for the development of high-throughput microfluidic tools for their medical applications and research.
Similar to how inkjet printing works, PolyJet technology works with droplets of photocurable liquid material being deposited onto a build tray in layers as fine as 16 microns in a single print. The material is then simultaneously cured as it is deposited via UV light.
- 3D printing has a low-barrier cost entry during the industrial design phase and represented substantial savings.
- There is no “1 hit 1 kill” when it comes to prototyping, with 3 design iterations usually the bare minimum. For Sensocore’s case, four iterations were made before they settled on the final design for the water sensor system.
Following initial sales of the water sensor system and feedback from customers, it was realized that the function button panel might malfunction from being exposed to the elements. Thus, the decision was made to adopt a sleeve protector that would wrap around the system to ensure a snug fit and keep out the water.
Urethane rubber and silicon 3D printing materials were selected for their rigid, flexible, durable, and high-temperature resistant properties, with the 3D printed molds accurately mimicking those that were made with injection molding.
The benefits include:
- An MOQ (minimum order quality) of 4,000 units costing $80,000 was required for a such a product if traditional casting was implemented, but 3D printing allowed for the cost-effective production of complex geometrical parts at low-volume.
- 3D printing enables you to simply print-on-demand. Unlike sleeves produced through traditional manufacturing, getting a physical space to store any surplus sleeves that could cost $100,000 or more is no longer a requirement.
- The initial wall thickness of the sleeve was set at 2mm, which offered a snug fit around the sensor system. But following customers’ feedback that they wanted a better grip during handling, the wall thickness was changed to 4mm which offered the same fit.
With the need to prove the marketability of their product in low volume, it made no business sense for traditional manufacturing. 3D printing was much more viable and cost-efficient in this situation. Mass production using traditional manufacturing can then be deployed when orders start flooding in.
3D printing also enables the ability to cast a reverse mold with silicon. With everything kept in a digital inventory that can be accessed via the cloud, printing can be done as and when it was required without the need for a physical location to keep printed molds.
Time and cost savings of 86% and 95% were enabled, with just 4 days needed to produce a 3D printed sleeve at a fraction of the cost compared to traditional manufacturing.
While traditional manufacturing is made for high volume and low variability products, 3D printing enables low volume manufacturing that’s driven by design – parts can be customized easily with CAD and with little to no cost for variation.
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Admin Creatz3D Jun 21, 2018 Sensocore Aquafarm water sensor system – Case Study https://creatz3d.com.sg/sensocore-aquafarm-case-study/ visited on Jun 30, 2018;
Sensocore logo Sensors and Automation Technologies https://sensocore.tech/ visited on Jun 30, 2018;