How an Engineer Changed the Winter Olympic Games

snowboarderThe Winter Olympic Games are in full swing, and snowboarding has quickly become one of the most popular events. But did you know that the snowboard was invented by an engineer? In 1965, Sherman Poppen, a chemical gases engineer in Muskegon, Michigan, invented “The Snurfer” (affectionately named by his wife as a cross between snow and surfer) as a toy for his daughter. He created the Snurfer by binding two skis together side by side and attaching a rope at the nose onto which the rider could hold for added stability. The Snurfer was a big hit with Poppen’s daughter and her friends, and so Poppen licensed his snow-covered groundbreaking idea to a manufacturer. Half a million Snurfers sold the following year, and a new sport was born. Snowboarding was added to the Olympic Games in 1998.

Valentine’s Day Flowers for the Eco-Conscious

Last_petal_Loves_meValentine’s Day is fast approaching, and with it comes the giving and receiving of cut flower arrangements. And while beautiful bouquets are romantic and seem to be a natural and environmentally conscious choice, they actually have a very large environmental and water footprint. Fortunately, there are plenty of Valentine’s Day flower options that are both romantic and environmentally friendly.

Environmental Impact of Traditional Cut Flowers

The United States imports about 80% of all its cut flowers, with 90% of those imports coming from Latin America, where pesticide use is rampant and unregulated. In Colombia, flower plantation workers are routinely exposed to over 125 types of pesticides – pesticides that are outlawed in the U.S. because of their toxicity. In fact, over 65% of flower workers in Colombia suffer from work-related illnesses, including rashes, headaches, miscarriages and birth defects, respiratory issues, and premature death. In addition, transporting cut flowers from Latin America to U.S. retailers utilizing airplanes, refrigerated trucks, and cold storage comes at a price of six pounds of greenhouse gases per bouquet. And the water footprint is just as dreary: growing a single rose uses up to 13 liters of water, and Latin American streams and groundwater have been polluted and radically depleted by flower farms. Admittedly, flowers are as integral a part of Valentine’s Day as organic, fair-trade chocolate and recycled greeting cards printed with soy-based ink. So we’ve come up with some options to satisfy any green romantic.

356px-Bamboo-houseplantLocal and Organically Grown Flowers

For a listing of locally grown flowers, head over to Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers where you can search for sources by location and flower type. If you need delivery, look for online retailers who sell only organic flowers. California Organic Growers provides organically grown flowers from California farms. They even ship them overnight!

Organic, Live Plants

Living plants are a beautiful and eco-conscious option for Valentine’s Day. Organic Bouquet offers a nice range of whimsical and organically grown living plant arrangements, and they also ship overnight.

Seeds of Love

For those of you who want something even more environmentally conscious, plant organic flower seeds in a pretty pot with organic potting soil. Then just attach a card with a photo of the flowers-to-be that says “Water these flowers and watch them grow like our love.” Bonus: this is high on the romance scale!

papercarnations_1Homemade Paper Flowers

These paper flowers are both lovely and eco-friendly, but they do require a bit of time and crafting ability. Think of it as a labor of love! For full instructions on these pretty paper pansies, click here.

Be a Greenie to your Sweetie

Valentine’s Day is about showing our love, and what better way than to show love towards our sweetheart as well as our environment? This year, help protect the world’s water supply, our fellow humans, and our environment by choosing eco-conscious Valentine’s Day flowers. Your sweetheart – and your great-grandchildren – will thank you.

Green Changes Ahead in Stormwater Management

An enhanced tree pit helps mitigate runoff. Photo courtesy of NYC Environmental Protection.
An enhanced tree pit helps mitigate runoff. Photo courtesy of NYC Environmental Protection.

EPA looks to incorporate green infrastructure into new stormwater regulations in 2014

Spring 2014 will likely see the long-overdue proposed national stormwater regulation from the EPA. In addition to anticipated changes such as stronger reporting requirements, publicized Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plans (SWPPP), and clarified corrective action conduct, the EPA aims to integrate green practices and infrastructure into stormwater initiatives. These initiatives will have positive impact to both the environment and the economy.

Impact of Stormwater

Urban stormwater is a leading source of impairment, and its impact to water quality is growing. Currently, 800,000 acres are being developed annually, and that number is expected to grow to over one million acres by 2040. Development increases impervious cover, and even the smallest increase in impervious cover causes major impact to water reception. In addition, upstream development directly affects downstream waters, and many communities already have waterbodies that have been polluted by stormwater discharge. Clearly, innovative and effective stormwater management practices are imperative to the health of our nation’s waters.

Changing the Way We Approach Stormwater Management

Traditional stormwater management strategies involve the swift conveyance of stormwater from site to waterbody or detention ponds, and the management of peak flows and drainage to mitigate flooding and large-scale downstream erosion. The new approach to stormwater will be to manage municipal stormwater discharges on a watershed basis, particularly MS4 communities, and to integrate green infrastructure into project design during development or redevelopment. This green approach will provide the most cost-effective opportunity to manage stormwater at its source by preventing water quality degradation in healthy waters and helping to restore already impaired waters.

The EPA is considering a number of performance standards for the upcoming proposed ruling, including a retention-based standard to require that sustainable stormwater controls be incorporated into sites as they are developed and redeveloped, thereby reducing volume and velocity of discharges as well as pollutants. The EPA has made it clear that there are indeed cost-effective ways of meeting the standard, including incorporating controls in the site design by preserving vegetation and reducing impervious cover, and integrating green infrastructure practices into landscape or other common areas. The ruling will contain some flexibility, taking into consideration an area\’s climate and other location-specific characteristics as well as redevelopment site constraints and phased implementation. In addition, there may be additional incentives for smart growth and brownfields development.

A porous concrete sidewalk filters rain back into the ground instead of the sewer system. Photo courtesy of NYC Environmental Protection.
A porous concrete sidewalk filters rain back into the ground instead of the sewer system. Photo courtesy of NYC Environmental Protection.

Benefits of a Proposed Stormwater Rule

  • Improved recreational, aesthetic and non-use values
  • Lower drinking water treatment costs
  • Lower dredging costs for navigational channels
  • Reduced siltation of water storage reservoirs
  • Reduced downstream flooding damage
  • Groundwater recharge
  • Small stream erosion and water quality impacts


  • Improved air quality and reduced human health impacts
  • Higher off-site property values associated with green infrastructure
  • Carbon uptake by plants
  • Reduced energy use by buildings and associated air quality
  • Carbon footprint benefits


  • Reduced flooding
  • More livable communities
  • Increased property values
  • Avoidance of extremely high costs of water restoration

UF winners copy

Students at the University of Florida won the EPA\’s 2012 Campus RainWorks Challenge with this green infrastructure design. Read about it in detail here.

In Conclusion

It is imperative that we protect our nation’s most precious resource, and stormwater management is a crucial facet of that goal. The expected spring 2014 EPA stormwater rulings will likely bring significant green infrastructure initiatives, and not a moment too soon. Green infrastructure will serve as an impetus for the critical and cost-effective protection of our water supply with the added benefit of enhancing the world in which we all live.

10 Things You Should Know About Water [INFOGRAPHIC]

water-droplet-iconFresh water is arguably the world’s most precious resource, and one that many take for granted. In fact, most people simply do not know about the water crisis facing our world, and information and education are powerful tools that can help solve this crisis. This downloadable and printable infographic, courtesy of Circle of Blue, illustrates some critical facts about water and its usage, and serves as an excellent reminder that we must work together to protect this invaluable resource. We encourage you to distribute and post these graphics anywhere that people need to understand more about our global water supply.

The West Virginia Water Crisis: a Warning for our Future

no water sign

Over the past several days, over 300,000 consumers in West Virginia have been unable to use their tap water for any purpose other than toilet flushing due to a chemical leak from coal manufacturer Freedom Industries. The chemical, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM), was stored in antiquated 40,000 gallon tanks very close to the Elk River. You can read about the leak here:

Questions are certainly being raised surrounding this crisis. Could it have been handled better? Could it have been avoided altogether? And finally, is there a way to prevent this type of disaster from happening again? And the answer to all is an unequivocal yes.

First, there are no regulations for MCHM, even though some warning flags had been raised. From the Charleston Saturday Gazette-Mail:

Last February, Freedom Industries sent state officials a form telling them the company stored thousands of pounds of a coal-cleaning chemical called 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol in the storage tanks at its Etowah River Terminal.

The facility, along the Elk River not far from downtown Charleston, is about 1.5 miles upstream from the intake West Virginia American Water uses to supply drinking water for 300,000 residents across the capital city and the surrounding region.

Freedom Industries filed its “Tier 2” form under the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act. State emergency response officials got a copy. So did emergency planners and responders from Kanawha County.

Under the law, government officials are supposed to use chemical inventory information on Tier 2 forms, like Freedom Industries’, to prepare for potential accidents.

Armed with the forms, they know what facilities could explode, where large quantities of dangerous substances are stockpiled, and what industries could pose threats to things such as drinking water supplies. They can plan how to evacuate residents, fight fires or contain toxic leaks.

On Thursday morning, an unknown amount of the chemical leaked from one of Freedom Industries’ tanks into the Elk River. By late afternoon, West Virginia American Water was warning residents across a nine-county region not only not to drink their water, but also not to use it for anything except flushing toilets or fighting fires.

Now, all manner of federal, state and local agencies are rushing to truck in water and otherwise see to residents’ needs, following Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s declaration of a “state of emergency” and President Obama’s order to provide federal assistance.

Those same agencies and public officials, though, have said they know little about the chemical involved. They’re all acting a bit surprised that this mystery substance was being stockpiled so close to a crucial water intake, and shocked that something like this could have happened.

Clearly, state officials were well informed on the location and volume of MCHM near a public water supply, yet they took no action, not even to inspect the tanks. And the reason is simple: there is very little information on the level of toxicity of MCHM, and it is therefore not regulated.

Freedom Industries plant along Elk River, Lawrence PierceFreedom Industries’ tanks do not fall under any jurisdiction and do not require any type of inspection because MCHM is not considered hazardous enough to require permitting, even though it causes skin irritation as well as nausea and vomiting. In fact, Freedom Industries wasn\’t under any type of state oversight, said Michael Dorsey, Chief of the State Department of Environmental Protection’s Homeland Security and Emergency Response office.

“In my world – I’m a hazmat guy – this stuff’s below my radar screen until this happens,” said Dorsey. “The tanks themselves, we don’t have the regulatory authority to inspect those tanks.”

Fortunately, that is likely to change. Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Randy Huffman noted, “We are working on some ideas right now. I think a lot of folks will be calling for legislation and rightly so.”

In addition, Freedom Industries themselves failed the public in two ways. First, company executives knew full well that the tanks and retaining walls – dating back to the 1930’s and 40’s – were antiquated and desperately needed replacement. Multiple holes up to one inch in diameter were clearly visible in the tanks and walls, and it is generally accepted that the leak into the water supply was two-fold, through holes in both a tank and a retaining wall. Freedom Industries, in full knowledge of the chemicals they stored, the proximity to the public water supply, and the poor condition of their tanks and walls, clearly operated with gross negligence by failing to replace said tanks and walls. But their negligence doesn\’t stop there.

Freedom Industries did not report or respond appropriately. State law mandates immediate reporting of any chemical spill, yet state environmental workers arrived at the spill site at 11:15am on Thursday because of a phone call from West Virginia American Water Company – not Freedom Industries, said Huffman. The water company, who had received complaints from local residents about a licorice-like smell in the water starting at around 7:30am, was quick to alert authorities. Conversely, Freedom Industries was also aware of the leak yet failed to report it. Two Freedom Industries employees noted the smell as well as the leak at around 10:30am and informed company president Gary Southern, who did not report the spill or attempt any type of containment. This inaction very well may have exacerbated an already dire situation.

“Had they put containment measures in place the instant they knew, it’s logical to deduce that there wouldn’t have been as much product in the stream,” Huffman said.

In response to this gross negligence, there have already been six lawsuits filed against Freedom Industries. On January 13, the DEP demanded that Freedom Industries cease its operation and immediately conduct integrity tests of all storage tanks and secondary containment structures, and on Wednesday, January 15, the DEP issued five citations against Freedom Industries.

emergency responseLastly, there was no plan in place for dealing with such an emergency. The EPA mandates an Emergency Response Plan (ERP) as well as training for utilities servicing over 3,300 customers in case of emergency. The Bioterrorism Act, which went into effect in 2002 in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, requires the preparation of an initial ERP, but not its maintenance. The EPA has noted that an ERP is a living document that should be updated annually at a minimum.  Without these updates, an ERP quickly loses its efficacy. A sampling of required action items within an ERP include partnerships with law enforcement, public health officials, emergency workers, and first responders from local to federal levels; general emergency response policies and procedures; identification of alternative water sources; chain-of-command chart; communication procedures and notification lists; personnel safety; property protection; training, exercises, and drills; assessment; and general and incident-specific emergency action procedures. Clearly, an ERP is a comprehensive and crucial tool in maintaining public safety and in mitigating damage and difficulty in times of emergency.

The water crisis in West Virginia was certainly stressful and inconvenient, impacting local residents and businesses both emotionally and financially. However, West Virginians are fortunate that the leaked chemical was not overly toxic and that, so far, nobody has suffered any long-term effects or lost their life. Hopefully, this crisis will be limited to an inconvenience and used as a warning of how we need to be better prepared in case of a serious water-related emergency. Americans take running water for granted, and we don’t realize our dependence on it until disaster strikes. State and federal agencies need to mandate regulations and inspections to prevent such a spill from reoccurring, and water supplies must update and maintain their ERPs. Because let’s face it: water is something that we simply cannot live without.

Road Salt: Taming the Beast


Winter is fully upon us, and with it comes frigid temperatures, blustery winds, and, of course, snow. While snow brings fun to northern climates, such as ski trips, snowmen, and peppermint lattes, it also brings a toxic and dangerous contaminant: road salt. Road salt is the primary agent used for roadway de-icing, as it is both effective and inexpensive. However, it wreaks havoc on many aspects of our ecosystem, and it is imperative that we thoughtfully examine how we can protect our natural resources while still maintaining safe roadways.

What Is It?

Let’s start by looking at what road salt really is. Road salt is composed primarily of sodium (Na) and chloride (Cl); however, up to 5% of its composition is made up of ferrocyanide, an anti-caking agent that has been on the EPA’s list of toxic pollutants under the Clean Water Act since 2003, and other impurities such as calcium, potassium, iron, magnesium, aluminum, lead, phosphorus, manganese, copper, zinc, nickel, chromium, and cadmium. All of these components end up in our environment through runoff, melting, and vehicle splash, and have a profound impact on many aspects of our environment.

Water Quality

Winter_Pond_(4251468916)NaCl contamination causes water to have a higher density, and this denser water settles at the bottom of lakes and ponds, preventing oxygen from the top of the water from reaching the bottom. The bottom layer of the water is then unable to support aquatic life due to its oxygen void. Road salt contamination also adversely affects the food supply, health, and reproductive capabilities of aquatic life, disrupting aquatic ecosystems.

In addition, water contaminated with chloride is not easily treated, as only costly processes such as reverse osmosis, ion exchange, and distillation remove it. Sodium in drinking water is monitored due to health concerns in individuals restricted to low-sodium diets, and, because well contamination is often due to road salt runoff, treatment of contaminated private water supplies falls squarely on the shoulders of the Department of Transportation — an expensive responsibility. Due to the alarming increase in road salt usage over the past several years, contaminated water supplies are increasing dramatically.

Animal Life

birds in snowIngested road salt can adversely affect the health of your pets. According to the ASPCA’s website, road salt ingestion, through drinking contaminated puddles, licking paws, or by eating it directly, can cause a myriad of health issues for your pet, from vomiting and diarrhea to seizure and death. In addition, road salt damages the pads of your pets’ feet, making them crack and bleed.

The wildlife population most negatively affected by road salt is birds. Birds eat the salt crystals directly, thinking they are seeds, and they only need to ingest a tiny amount of salt to cause toxosis and death. Also, through its destruction of vegetation, road salt causes depletion of food sources, habitats, and nesting sites for all wildlife. Aquatic populations are also susceptible to road salt contamination, particularly to the anti-caking agent ferrocyanide, which is lethal to fish species.

Plant Life

Road salt damages both aquatic and terrestrial plants by inhibiting nutrient absorption, germination, and flowering, and by causing root damage and dehydration. In fact, NaCl is a registered herbicide due to its toxicity to plants. Plants along roadways act as a protective barrier between pollutants and waters, and destruction of this natural buffer increases water pollution. Road salt also disrupts aquatic ecosystems by eliminating habitats and food supplies and by increasing the prevalence of nuisance algal populations.


Road salt negatively changes soil chemistry by reducing soil’s pH, decreasing permeability and absorption rates, damaging fertility, and killing beneficial bacteria. Affected soil also erodes at a quicker rate.


rusty bridge 2Salt corrodes. We notice it mainly on our cars, but it also affects infrastructure such as bridges, support rods, and parking garages. Corrosion poses danger to the public due to compromised structural integrity of bridges and other supported roadways, and it also costs billions of dollars per year in corrosion control and repair costs.

What We Can Do

The best plan of action is to reduce the amount of salt we are using on our nation’s roadways. And this task is certainly feasible. For example, through the Central Massachusetts Regional Stormwater Coalition (CMRSWC), Tata & Howard developed a process providing a roadway treatment calibration approach that maintains safe conditions while reducing chloride loading to surface waters:

  1. salting truckReview and evaluate the types of materials used for roadway treatment on local roadways
  2. Calculate the total loading rate of chloride (in pounds of chloride per lane-mile) presently applied
  3. Compare the calculated loading rates to the range of rates documented in literature
  4. If a community’s current chloride loading rates are statistically higher than documented values, determine if that community may benefit from efforts to alter their current practices
  5. Recommend a phased approach to achieve the potential reduced loading rate
  6. Perform calibration procedures on equipment to deliver reduced chloride loading rates

By performing these steps, CMRSWC communities have significantly lowered their road salt load, resulting in decreased municipality spending and increased environmental protection, all while maintaining safe roadways.


Road salt is certainly necessary, as it remains the best and most cost-effective defense against slippery, dangerous roadways. However, more care and training need to go into salt application. With combined efforts from municipalities, contractors, and engineers, we can drastically reduce the negative impact of road salt on our environment — and still make it to work on time.


7 Tips to Stay Healthy This Holiday Season

The holiday season is upon us, and while it is indeed a joyous and festive time of year, it can also be a difficult one. We have put together some tips for maintaining physical and mental health during this bustling time.

xmas cookiesEat frequently.
We all know the holidays are a time for cookies, cakes, and candy canes, and enjoying the tastes of the season is part of the festivities. However, overindulging in sweet treats can lead to weight gain, lethargy, and illness. Try to eat small, healthy meals, including lean protein and a variety of vegetables, every 3-4 hours; that way, you’ll stay satisfied all day and be less likely to overeat those tempting trifles. And when you do indulge, keep the portion to one serving: enjoy a small piece of cake, one cookie, or a single truffle. By maintaining balance, you won’t feel deprived and will still keep your diet and health in check.

Get enough sleep.
A good night\’s sleep does a lot more than just banish those pesky under-eye circles. A full night’s sleep – 7-9 hours per night – boosts memory, aids in disease prevention, allows the body to make necessary repairs to itself, assists in maintaining a healthy weight, increases creativity, and helps the body resist illness. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Adequate sleep, once greatly overlooked, is now touted as one of the most important factors in maintaining overall health. So go ahead, hit the snooze button. Your body and mind will thank you.

worcester skate2Stay active.
Let’s face it, the chilly, short days and frenetic schedule this time of year make squeezing in daily exercise a challenge. However, staying active year-round helps stave off illness and disease, boosts metabolism, supports mental health, and helps maintain a healthy weight. Some tips for exercising around the holidays include joining a gym (they always have specials this time of year), skiing, iceskating, working out with your smartphone or tablet (there’s an app for that!), or signing up for a fitness class. Be creative! Even choosing to take the stairs, wash your windows, or to park at the opposite end of the parking lot at work will help you sneak in extra daily activity.

Stress is one of the largest factors in contributing to illness, disease, and weight gain. The holidays are particularly difficult for many people due to a variety of stressors, such as harried schedules, crowded shopping centers, and familial and monetary worries. Don’t let the holidays stress you out! Practice breathing techniques, take a yoga class, relax with a cup of peppermint tea, or meditate. These are simple, yet effective measures in reducing stress and allowing you to enjoy the season. And speaking of ways to de-stress…

Practice positive thinking.
It is so simple, and really pays off. Consistent positive thinking does take some conscious effort, but with a little practice, it will become second nature – and you’ll be on your way to a much calmer and happier outlook. Somebody cut you off on the highway? Be grateful you weren’t in an accident. Heating oil delivery costs are through the roof? Be thankful for that roof. Be mindful of everyday aggravations, and find a way to turn them into moments of gratitude.

woman with water glass smilingDrink your water.
This one is our favorite! Adequate water consumption – half your body weight in ounces per day – offers a myriad of health benefits, including disease prevention, heightened metabolism, weight maintenance, illness prevention, mental clarity, and joint health. In addition, staying hydrated gives you shiny hair, strong nails, and healthy skin. Providing clean, safe water is something we are passionate about here at Tata & Howard. We hope you will drink your water and enjoy the many benefits it has to offer this holiday season. And last but not least…

While the adage “It takes 43 muscles to frown and only 17 to smile” is largely an old spouse’s tale, the premise behind it holds firm: smiling and spreading cheer is easy and infectious. So give it a try, along with our other tips, and enjoy the happiest, healthiest holiday season possible!

5 Delicious Ways to Drink More Water This Holiday Season


Thanksgiving is just around the corner, a joyful day when we reflect upon all we have and offer thanks. While we all enjoy some well-deserved time off with family, friends, and (of course) food, let’s not forget to drink our water. Staying hydrated offers a myriad of health benefits, including aiding in the digestion of our Thanksgiving feast. So take advantage of the fresh, clean water provided by our public water suppliers and brew up some healthful flavored waters. We have included some festive holiday recipes below to entice everyone in the family to drink more water. Happy Thanksgiving!

Rosemary-orange Workout WaterRosemary-Orange Water

Ingredients (serves 4):
8 whole sprigs fresh rosemary
4 whole slices fresh orange
4 scoop Ice
  1. Place two rosemary sprigs in each glass.
  2. Place one orange slice in each glass.
  3. Using a spoon, gently bruise the rosemary and orange by pressing.
  4. Fill glasses with ice; top with water and stir.
  5. Serve cold.

sassy spicedSassy Spiced Water

Ingredients (serves 16):
3 drops lemon essential oil
2 drops grapefruit essential oil
1 drop ginger essential oil
1 drop peppermint essential oil
1 drop cinnamon essential oil
1 gallon water
Lime wedges
  1. Place drops of each essential oil into a gallon of cold water.
  2. Shake well to mix the flavors together.
  3. Pour over ice and garnish with lime. Enjoy!

peachesPeaches ‘n Cream Water

Ingredients (serves 8):
5 very ripe peaches, pitted and thinly sliced
8 vanilla beans sliced down the middle
2 T organic honey
2 liters of water
  1. Warm the honey and stir into the water.
  2. Allow water and honey mixture to cool.
  3. Add in the peaches and vanilla beans to the water.
  4. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
  5. Add ice to glasses and serve!

apple1Apple Cinnamon Water

Ingredients (serves 8):
1 organic apple, cored and thinly sliced
2 cinnamon sticks
2 liter pitcher of water
  1. Add sliced apple and cinnamon to pitcher.
  2. Cover with ice.
  3. Fill the pitcher with water and allow it to set in the fridge for 15 minutes before drinking.

pomegranatePomegranate Blueberry Water

Ingredients (serves 8):
1 pint organic blueberries
1-2 cups pomegranate seeds
2 liters water
  1. Add blueberries, pomegranate seeds, and water to pitcher.
  2. Cover and chill at least 8 hours.
  3. Add ice to glasses just before serving.
  4. Add skewers of blueberries to each glass for a festive touch.

Donald J. Tata, P.E., and Tata & Howard Receive Awards from MWWA

DJT and PBH MWWA awards 11.13Donald J. Tata, P.E., and Tata & Howard Receive Awards from MWWA

On November 8, Don received the prestigious William H. McGinness Award at the MWWA Dinner. The award is given to an affiliate member whose knowledge and contributions to the profession merit recognition. Tata & Howard also received the Presidential Award for sponsorship supporting MWWA’s initiatives, programs, and events.

3D Printing: More Than Just a Neat Idea

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” Steve Jobs

The concept of 3D printing is straightforward and easily understandable. 3D Printing is a new technology that can create objects from digital data. Just as a standard inkjet or laser printer transcribes data from a file onto a sheet of paper, 3D printers turn data into stunningly realistic models using a variety of media, such as silicon and metal. 3D printing is relatively inexpensive and is currently being used throughout the world for a broad range of industries. But before we look at its uses, let\’s answer the big question: how exactly does it work?

Technical Overview
In 1995, a new 3D printing technology, ZPrinting, was developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. As in many other rapid prototyping processes, the part to be printed is built up from many thin cross sections of the 3D model. In ZPrinters, an inkjet-like printing head moves across a bed of powder, selectively depositing a liquid binding material in the shape of the section. A fresh layer of powder is spread across the top of the model, and the process is repeated. When the model is complete, unbound powder is automatically removed. Parts can be built on a ZPrinter at a rate of approximately one vertical inch per hour.1

For a visual on how 3D printing works, take a look at how Objet utilized 3D printing to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park – which just happens to be where the 2013 World Series was recently won:

Beyond replicating beloved ballparks, 3D printing offers a myriad of advantages:

  • Print prototypes quickly, obtain feedback, refine designs, and repeat the cycle until designs are perfect
  • Create affordable prototypes early in the ideation stage of product development
  • Improve communication by holding realistic 3D models in your hands to impart infinitely more information than a computer image
  • Compress design cycles by 3D printing multiple prototypes on demand
  • Cut traditional prototyping and tooling costs
  • Identify design errors earlier

Specific applications in the Engineering Industry will allow engineering firms to better communicate with their clients:

  • Design Prototypes: Create concept models, functional prototypes, and presentation models for evaluating and refining designs
  • Architecture: Print detailed, movable models of architectural designs and prototypes for the design of critical elements
  • Geospatial: Easily convert GIS data into 3D landscape and cityscape models

Basic 3D printing has also become more affordable. Tata & Howard has this lamp that was printed on an $800 home printer:


Who’s Doing It?
While 3D printing is almost 20 years old, it is only recently starting to gain momentum commercially. Falling costs, more efficient printers, and full color designs utilizing a variety of media are driving more demand for 3D printers.

To better understand the broad capabilities of 3D printers, take a look at these innovations:

NASA is planning to launch a toaster-sized 3D printer into space next year to assist astronauts. Instead of bogging down the shuttle with an endless supply of tools and spare parts that will likely never be needed, astronauts will now be able to quickly print a spare part or tool that they might need on their mission.

nasa tools

Massachusetts father Paul McCarthy printed a working prosthetic hand on his son Leon\’s school\’s 3D printer at a cost of $10. A traditional prosthetic for Leon, who was born without fingers on his left hand, came with a hefty price tag of $20,000. With some research, a bit of CAD experience, and the tenacity of a loving father, Mr. McCarthy was able to find an affordable option using 3D printing technology.

leon mccarthy

Nestle’s Chocnology
To celebrate the forthcoming release of Android\’s newest OS Android Kit Kat, Nestle-owned Kit Kat South Africa is hosting “Chocnology,” a delicious exhibition of 3D-printed sculptures designed by South African artists made out of yes, you guessed it, chocolate. To produce the artwork, a 3D printer that typically utilizes a plastic-based filament was manipulated to use chocolate as its base material, allowing the creation of intricate, edible sculptures.


And it doesn’t stop there. Under consideration is utilizing a 3-D printer to create metal jet-engine turbine blades with air channels to allow for better cooling. Also, the medical industry has seen the advent of a cell printer. Functioning like an ink-jet printer, this cell printer sprays a precise stream of gel containing living cells. Early tests are looking to cell print a meniscus, the tissue that cushions the knee. And the list goes on.

In Conclusion
3D printing is indeed the wave of the future and is applicable throughout nearly every industry. However, 3D printer operation does require CAD experience and an understanding of 3-dimensional design. Therefore, it seems unlikely that 3D printers will be replacing the traditional household inkjet printer anytime soon. But in the hands of creative engineers with some CAD expertise – the possibilities are truly limitless.