Monday, 06 October 2014 08:01

Canadian firm develops 'open source' hydroponics system Featured

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A Canadian 3D printing company has devised a hydroponics system which it calls 3Dponics, using some parts which are printed on a 3D printer and others which are commonly available.

The company, 3Dprintler labs, has now created another entity, 3Dponics, to cater to those who are interested in adopting the system. The designs for the parts which are printable on a 3D printer are freely available — or open source as the company terms it — and can be downloaded and printed.

3Dprintler's director of social media, Lucy Morrissey, told iTWire that 3Dponics had been launched as a project in July 2014 and became a company officially a month later.

3Dprintler is owned by Michael Golubev, a Canadian of Russian origin. He started the company and is the current chief executive. The head office is in Ottawa and there are representatives in Belgrade, St Petersburg and Singapore.

"Michael had his own Makerbot Replicator 2 and enjoyed experimenting with it; 3D printing began as a hobby," Morrissey said.

"However, he was soon printing parts that were actually quite useful – parts (that) others were interested in getting their hands on. At the same time, he had a keen interest in indoor gardening. It wasn't long before he was 3D printing parts that would make his vertical garden more efficient and the upkeep easier."

The 3Dponics system installed in an office.

For two years, Golubev and the team developed and refined 3Dponics — the digital files and the system as a whole — before launching it on Kickstarter in July 2014.

"We went the Kickstarter route primarily to get the word out, generate interest in the 3D-printable hydroponics system and begin to build an online community of users," Morrissey explained.

"So yes, the idea essentially was born from an existing passion for both 3D printing and gardening. We wanted to provide a practical solution for people who cannot afford the organic produce they'd like to eat; people who wish to keep a garden but lack space for a traditional one; and people who want to try 3D printing but have little, if any, prior experience.

"At the same time, we were considering the future (and bigger issues this system could help solve): less arable land, a growing population and need for food and a greater reliance on 3D printers in manufacturing and other industries."

James Lambert who works for the company has a close look at a 3Dponics system.

Morrissey said the company wanted everyone to benefit from 3Dponics and enjoy it on a daily basis. "So we made sure that it was affordable, easy to build and easy to manage (once built). Moreover, it’s a fully open source project. We'd like everyone to work together to improve 3Dponics."

She said that as the project moved forward, the original idea would still stand. "We are developing additional resources that will make the system even more practical and efficient (ie. software that will better allow you to monitor and operate the system remotely)."

While those who own a 3D printer can download the designs for the parts and print them, those who do not own a 3D printer can buy them from 3Dponics or else have them printed by a third party.

"The digital files for the 3D-printed parts are free online," Morrissey said. "Printing them on your 3D printer will cost only a couple of dollars. If you need someone else to print the parts, it will cost a little bit more, considering shipping and labour, but the exact amount will depend which company/website you’re going through to have them printed. The price varies."

She said more than 650 members had registered so far. "But we do believe there are many more users who simply haven’t bothered to register. We expect the number of 3Dponics users to grow exponentially in the next couple of months, as there are several upcoming exhibitions and conferences we’re attending (eg. Inside 3D Printing Conference & Expo in Santa Clara taking place from October 21 to 23.).

Morrissey said the company was revamping its website at the moment to offer resources, such as a forum, in which one could easily and quickly connect with others who are growing with 3Dponics.

"In the meantime, we can be reached without trouble by email ([email protected]) with any questions or concerns," she said. "We also encourage users to reach out and connect with us and fellow users via social media, by following our accounts (@3Dponics) and using the hashtag #3Dponics. We do have mailing lists of 3Dponics supporters/users, so we are able to send out important updates."

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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