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3D printing used to build cheap, reliable water quality sensors

3D printing, or additive manufacturing, has now been used to produce a device that monitors drinking water quality in real time.

Canadian researchers have developed miniature water quality sensors that are both simple and cost-effective to produce, while also offering continuous application anywhere within a water distribution system.

University of British Columbia School of Engineering Director Professor Mina Hoorfar said the new design could alleviate the bugbears of current water safety procedures.

"Current water safety practice involves only periodic hand testing, which limits sampling frequency and leads to a higher probability of disease outbreak," Hoorfar said.

"Traditional water quality sensors have been too expensive and unreliable to use across an entire water system."

The devices proved to provide accurate readings regardless of water pressure or temperature. Furthermore, they operate wirelessly and independently, providing a more robust system.

"This highly portable sensor system is capable of constantly measuring several water quality parameters such as turbidity, pH, conductivity, temperature and residual chlorine, and sending the data to a central system wirelessly," Hoorfar said.

"It is a unique and effective technology that can revolutionise the water industry."

Hoorfar said real-time monitoring currently used by many utilities are upstream of the distribution system, with supply pressure too high for many sensors to tolerate. And although water quality issues are problematic in developing countries, the device is applicable in developed countries too.

"Although the majority of water-related diseases occur in lower- or middle-income countries, water quality events raise serious questions about consistent water safety in even developed countries like Canada," Hoorfar said.

"Many of these tragedies could be prevented with frequent monitoring and early detection of pathogens causing the outbreak."