By using 3D printing, the automotive industry has been able to print car parts, the architecture industry can print complex design models, and the healthcare industry is using the technology to create prosthesis, implants, and organs. Rod Priest from Goulburn-Murray Water (GMW) believes it’s now the utility industry’s turn, and is developing a 3D printing approach that has the potential to reduce costs and increase the life of water assets.
Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing as it’s more commonly known, allows industries to create 3D printed objects from digital designs. Rod Priest, a mechanical engineer and metering support officer in GMW’s Asset Forward Planning team, has created a program that is assessing how 3D printing could produce parts for water assets that can be used in GMW’s asset management program.
The project, part of GMW’s innovation program, was recognised at the 2016 Water Industry Operators Association (WIOA) Conference where Mr Priest won the Kwatye Award.
The Kwatye Award is sponsored by leading biotechnology product development company, Thermo Fisher Scientific Australia, and honours innovative projects that benefit the Australian water industry.
The award also came with a $6,600 grant for the project, which Mr Priest said will help the program look at how existing 3D printing processes and technologies can extend the life of water assets.
“3D printing will potentially reduce the cost of asset life, or increase the life of a particular asset. At the end of the day, it’s all about cost for use, so we need to reduce the cost of our assets to our customers. 3D printing will be able to prolong the life, and make parts cheaper than traditional methods.
“Potentially some of the different materials that we can use will actually extend the life of a particular part, so there’s a much bigger variety of material composition that we can use. We can also use coding technologies to actually strengthen the existing technologies, or the existing substructure,” Mr Priest said.
3D printing has the potential to drastically reduce manufacturing costs as the materials used are much cheaper than conventional materials. It can also allow utilities to create parts that are no longer available through traditional manufacturing. Mr Priest said some of the current focus areas of GMW’s 3D printing program include aging infrastructure around dams, and pump station components used for run-off drainage water and irrigation.
“We’re looking at repairing particular components on some of those dam infrastructure assets, as some of those are a hundred plus years old. Also, other particular components on some of our smaller pump stations, so we’re looking at particular pump stations where we can actually improve the cost of pumping.
“We’re looking at several different options across all of our asset base, but tending towards some of our bigger assets, rather than our smaller, more frequent assets. This technology focuses better towards smaller one-offs and customised components, rather than multiples of small components,” Mr Priest said.
Since receiving the Kwatye Award, GMW has begun working with CSIRO to further investigate how this technology can be implemented in the industry. 3D printing technologies are providing water utilities with a new option for replacing aging asset components, which Mr Priest said revolves around innovation.
“I think the project scope is endless in terms of what we can actually use 3D printing for, it’s not just a product, or a particular thing, it’s a whole new way of thinking, and a new way of potentially developing all of our assets, and all of our manufacturing techniques.
“It’s all about innovation in terms of if we can be smarter in delivering water to any of our customers, and that goes right across the board, we can reduce the cost of that water delivery. That process can then lead on to bigger and better things for the whole irrigation and water delivery industry.”
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