Ocean scientists are making good use of the latest in 3D printing technology, as researchers in Australia are using 3D printers to produce more effective tags that can be used to track large fish. Scientists at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia’s national science agency, are printing the new titanium tags in Melbourne and shipping them to Tasmania, where they’re being used to track swordfish, marlin and tuna. The new tags are durable, non-corrosive, and most importantly, they’re non-toxic to the fish.
Fish tags are used to track fish in order to better understand their behavior. The beauty of 3D printing is that it enables scientists to test multiple designs at once in order to determine which is the most effective. “The fast turnaround speeds up the design process – it’s very easy to incorporate amendments to designs. 3D printing enables very fast testing of new product designs, which is why it’s so attractive to manufacturers wanting to trial new products,” said John Barnes from CSIRO in a press release.
At CSIRO’s new 3D printing facility, scientists are able to print out titanium tags that are produced by layering fused metal powder. Using traditional techniques, it would have taken months to design and produce new tags for testing, but the new technology enables them to do it much faster. “Using our Arcam 3D printing machine, we’ve been able to re-design and make a series of modified tags within a week,” said Barnes.
Titanium is an ideal material for fish tags because it resists corrosion in the salty ocean environment, and it’s biocompatible, which means that it’s non-toxic to living tissue. Those characteristics could lead to longer-lasting tags that don’t harm the fish. “A streamlined tag that easily penetrates the fish’s skin, but has improved longevity because it integrates with muscle and cartilage, would be of great interest to our colleagues conducting tagging programs across the world,” explained CSIRO marine researcher, Russell Bradford.