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3D Printing and CNC Machining Bring Researchers Face to Face with Sharks

Posted by: 14. March 2016

CNC machining can be a thrilling industry, even without throwing predatory killers into the mix. But when the folks at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) needed a safe way to study some of nature’s most efficient killing machines—great white sharks—it relied on advanced manufacturing technologies like CNC machining and 3D printing.

WHOI’s machine shop helped the team to create a device specifically designed for filming great white sharks. As part of the project, WHOI created an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) called REMUS (Remote Environmental Monitoring Units), and equipped it with the custom-made SharkCam.

With the REMUS and SharkCam, WHOI hoped to learn how sharks react to AUVs that invade their territory.

(Spoiler alert: they attack them.)

The REMUS is compact, lightweight and designed to operate in coastal environments. It follows a signal from a transponder beacon attached to the shark and can pursue the animal to a depth of 330 feet.

In a blog post from Autodesk, Tim Smith, WHOI senior machinist, outlined the passion he had for this “Jaws”-meets-machining project. Tim’s contribution to the REMUS SharkCam included milling its nose piece (where the camera is located). When asked how he felt about his intricate machining work getting fed to a great white, he said, “That guy lost some teeth. But we made the REMUS, and it’s tough.”

The machine shop behind this project has over two dozen CNC machines, according to the Autodesk blog, including an Omax waterjet, Hardinge metal lathes and a Stratasys industrial-grade 3D printer.

The industrial 3D printer was used to create affordable prototype parts from plastic, which helped the team figure out how to make the final metal products. This trial-and-error process contributed to a cheaper development process and final product. In addition to machined metal parts for the final REMUS, the SharkCam itself used a number of 3D printed parts.

Smith explained to Autodesk that he would receive potential designs from the scientists, then have his custom machine shop turn them into parts. This process generally took weeks, between working out the CAD design, testing with the 3D printer, and machining a final, functional version. They would then have to ensure that the final product could hold up to its intended purpose—getting on the business end of a great white shark.

High-end projects like the REMUS depend on precision part manufacturing that meets the demands of even the most creative of scientists and engineers. CNC machining can meet these incredible specifications.

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This is a version of a blog post that was originally published by Digital Machining Systems.

Jim Carter is co-founder and co-owner, along with his wife, Pixie, of Digital Machining Systems. Digital is a custom machine shop offering machining services in Duson (Lafayette), Louisiana.

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