More science for less money

Initial installation in the field of 3D printed weather station. Credit: Argonne National Laboratory

The cheap monitor systems with 3D-printed parts and low-cost sensors may not last as long as commercial ones, but researchers have seen that they can be so accurate.

Across the United States, weather stations consisting of instruments and sensors monitor conditions that generate local forecasts, such as air temperature, wind speed, and precipitation. These systems are not only weather controllers, they are powerful tools for researching issues ranging from agriculture to the generation of renewable energy.

Commercial weather can cost thousands of dollars, limiting the availability and therefore the amount of climate data that can be collected. But the advent of 3D printing and low-cost sensors has made it possible to build a weather station for hundreds of dollars. Could these cheap home versions be as good as their comparable prices?

“I didn’t expect this station to work nearly as well. Although the components began to degrade, the results show that these types of weather stations may be viable for shorter campaigns.” – Adam Theisen, Argonne atmospheric and Earth scientist

The answer is yes, to a point, according to the researchers, who put up a 3D printed weather station in Oklahoma. Adam K. Theisen, an atmospheric and terrestrial scientist at the Argonne National Laboratory at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), led the project, comparing the printed station to a commercial station for eight months to see if it was accurate and how good it was. can do against the elements.

Three-dimensional printing uses digital models to fly physical objects. Its low cost and ability to print parts can help expand the number of such stations where you can take the printer, bring data collection to remote sites, and help educate tomorrow’s researchers.

A team from the University of Oklahoma has followed the guidance and open source plans developed by the 3D Printed Automatic Weather Station (3D-PAWS) initiative to print more than 100 weather station parts at the University Atmospheric Research Corporation. Instead of using polylactic acid, Commonly used in 3D printing, turned to styrene acrylonitrile acrylate, a type of plastic filament that is more durable on the outside. The 3D-printed parts, along with low-cost sensors, provide the basis for these new systems, which the 3D-PAWS initiative hopefully established in previous experiments.

“In order for this to be more widely adopted, it needs to conduct such verification and validation tests,” Theisen said.

While the 3D-printed system began experimenting within five months of showing signs of problems – relative humidity sensors eroded and failed, and parts were eventually damaged or broken – its measurements were comparable to those of a commercial-grade station. The network is designed and implemented by scientists at the University of Oklahoma Mesonet and the University of Oklahoma State.

“I didn’t expect this station to work nearly as well,” Theisen said. “Even if the components start to degrade, the results show that these types of weather stations may be viable for shorter campaigns.”

Theisen, who was headquartered at the University of Oklahoma when the investigation began, continued to oversee the effort after joining Argonne.

In the experiment, low-cost sensors measured temperature, pressure, rainfall, UV, and relative humidity. With the exception of a couple of tools, the plastic material that withstood the weather in Oklahoma from mid-August 2018 to mid-April of the following year was subject to severe storms, snow, and temperatures of 14 to 104 ° F. Between 10 and 40 ° C). A 3D printed anemometer that measures wind speed didn’t work so well, but it could be improved with better print quality to some extent.

The project, which was led by undergraduate students at the University of Oklahoma, was confirmed accuracy 3D printed weather station and its value as an educational tool.

“Students learned sets of skills that they wouldn’t pick up in the classroom,” Theisen said. “They developed the proposal, designed the frame, and did most of the printing and wiring.”

The ability to print specialized components can make weather stations more viable in remote areas because spare parts can be manufactured immediately when needed. And even if a cheaper sensor breaks down after a few months, the math works on a small budget.

“If you’re replacing two or three of those inexpensive sensors every year rather than maintaining and calibrating a $ 1,000 sensor, it’s a big cost benefit to consider,” Theisen said.

The research, funded by the Cooperative Institute of Mesoscale Meteorological Studies at the University of Oklahoma, was published in the journal Atmospheric Measurement Techniques, September 4, 2020.

Reference: Adam Theisen, Max Ungar, Bryan Sheridan, and Bradley G. Illston, “Assessment of a 3D Printed Weather Station,” with Less Science, Less Science, September 4, 2020, Atmospheric Measurement Techniques.
DOI: 10.5194 / amt-13-4699-2020

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