Water Online

May 2017

Water Innovations gives Water and Wastewater Engineers and end-users a venue to find project solutions and source valuable product information. We aim to educate the engineering and operations community on important issues and trends.

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By Peter Chawaga 3 D printing appears to be the next horizon in production. It is a process in which a computer directs successive layers of material to accrue and form an inputted design. Traditional manufacturing, which relies on molds and fixed processes, tends to create the same object over and over. In 3D printing, because nearly any design can be put into the computer and then executed, resulting objects can be of almost any shape and highly specified for a given purpose. This gives manufacturers much more control over the designs of their products and the power to meet a given need nearly on the spot. 3D printing has been utilized by General Motors for the creation of automotive parts, by architects to create unique building models, and even by medical researchers to create prosthetics and artificial organs. Recently, a research project was conducted to find out what 3D printing could lend to the creation of treatment membranes. The process offers a chance to customize membranes to specific influents, to target certain contaminants of concern, and to react to emergency situations. 3D printing is a way to create a more specific membrane to solve treatment plant needs. "The need was to find a way of controlling the architecture of membrane microstructures in a predictable way so that the performance of the membranes can be predicted and controlled from the outset of designing the membranes," said Dr. Darrell Patterson, the director for the Centre for Advanced Separations Engineering at the University of Bath, and an author of the study. "Currently, the main [production] methods of polymer membrane formation do not allow for this." By getting more specific with a membrane's shape, treatment plants could do more within the same footprint. "A shaped membrane that can have a maximum surface area to increase the practical m e m b r a n e s u r f a c e - area-to-volume ratio, to increase membrane area in the same membrane holder, for example, could improve on the current flat sheet and hollow fiber membrane shapes," Patterson said. "3D printing would allow complete control over the design and fabrication of such shapes, which currently is not possible." The authors of the study explored how 3D printing technology could be applied to membrane engineering. Over the past 10 years, they say, 3D printing has reached a point where it offers the control, resolution, and precision that allows for membrane fabrication. It also allows for the micro- and macro-structure of the membrane to be designed and built at once, offering the potential for integrated design between the materials used and their purposes. Tailormade membranes could be designed to keep particles from fouling the surface 20 wateronline.com n Water Innovations The Potential Of Customized 3D-Printed Membranes Researchers have begun to explore the idea of 3D printing as a way to manufacture membranes. What could the cutting-edge technology mean for water and wastewater treatment? Key properties of 3D printing techniques (Creative Commons license CC BY 4.0)

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