In the not-too-distant past, the sole use for 3D printing in vector control may have been printing mosquito figurines for display on one’s desk. But today, these same printers are contributing toward effective vector control in a way that no one ever thought possible.
Salt Lake City Mosquito Abatement District (SLCMAD) in Utah has been working with a 3D printer since 2014 and now prints a range of vector control items from dippers to granule dispensers for a pesticide-applying drone.
The original decision to utilize a 3D printer arose out of sheer necessity. Working in such a niche discipline, needed equipment is often just not available for purchase at a store. In addition to quick access, 3D printing also allows for complete customizability tailored to suit the need. That said, while 3D printing pieces is an emerging process, the notion of constructing pieces to suit the needs of the district has been in practice for years. Districts have been constructing their own larval dippers and, in some cases, even making modifications to ATV’s to meet the needs of the day.
According to Dr. Ary Faraji, Executive Director with SLCMAD, most districts have someone on staff who, by nature, enjoys tinkering. At SLCMAD, that someone is the team of Maintenance Supervisor John Feragen, IT Specialist Andrew Dewsnup, and Urban Field Supervisor/Drone Pilot Brad Sorensen. Faraji’s interaction with 3D printing started when he was in New Jersey working on experiments to incorporate drones into mosquito control. When working with drones not crafted for vector control, most of the parts needed to be made rather than simply purchased. One of his colleagues (Dr. Greg Williams with Hudson Regional Health Commission) purchased a 3D printer and “all of a sudden, the world opened up with what you could make with this” said Faraji.
For SLCMAD, the potential to what can be constructed with a 3D printer seems limitless. To colonize the Sabethes cyaneus mosquito, for example, the team built a plexiglass case connected with 3D printed corner brackets and a very specifically designed ovicup to meet the specific egg-laying needs of the mosquito (see photo).
To create the highly-specific designs for the printer, SLCMAD utilizes a free online program called TinkerCAD through which they work with existing shape elements to design their project. According to Dewsnup, the shapes are pieced together (similar to building with LEGOs) to form tailored designs to then print. From there, the pieces go through a series of trial-and-error to ensure accurate sizing. Additionally, they are making all of their designs freely available on a Mosquito Control Group on Thingiverse (http://bit.ly/Mosquito3D), which is an online repository for 3D printing plans and files.
The team indicates that the material used to print is relatively cheap so there is not much risk to that trial-and-error series. Even the initial investment for the printer has come down drastically in the past few years. Once the design is perfected to the point of functioning on-par with commercially available pieces and is put into use, the cost savings of 3D printing are significant.
According to Sorensen and Dewsnup, anyone with a spatial-thinking mind should be able to utilize the online program with a bit of practice. They do advise that it may be advantageous to physically build the piece to be designed before constructing online but that the program is very intuitive.