Weerg 3D prints components for the KM3NeT project of the Dutch Institute of Subatomic Physics

Nikhef, the Dutch National Institute of Subatomic Physics, is carrying out research on the building blocks of our universe, their mutual forces and the structure of space and time. There are many questions to be answered regarding spectacular objects in the Universe such as black holes.
Scientists from all over the world collaborate with Nikhef carrying out research that, on the one hand, focuses on the behavior of elementary particles in controlled experiments and, on the other, on the observation of particles coming from the universe towards the Earth. Hence the birth of the international project called KM3NeT (acronym for Cubic Kilometer Neutrino Telescope), a research infrastructure that houses next-generation neutrino telescopes, with an overall size of more than one cubic kilometer.
Installed in the deepest seas of the Mediterranean Sea, KM3NeT will open a new window to our universe, also contributing to the search for the properties of the elusive neutrino particles. Through the study of neutrinos, made possible by KM3NeT's sophisticated technology, researchers hope to discover from where cosmic rays come and how particle accelerators work in the universe. Specifically, scientists in the international network will search for neutrinos from distant astrophysical sources such as supernovae, gamma rays or colliding stars thanks to KM3NeT's thousands of optical sensors that will detect the faint light in the deep sea from charged particles originating from neutrino and Earth collisions.
KM3NeT consists of digital optical modules (DOMs): football-sized glass spheres filled with 31 phototubes arranged in hundreds of lines about a kilometer long anchored to the sea floor. And that's where Weerg comes in, which Nikhef turned to for the creation of an essential component of the DOMs. These are semi-spheres measuring 380 mm, made by the Italian service using HP Multi Jet Fusion 5210 3D printing technology, for which Weerg has the largest European installation. "The first order arrived about two years ago and since then the collaboration has continued with regularity, even for higher and higher runs," says Francesco Zanardo, general manager of Weerg. "So far we have produced about 300 of these spheres, which have the particularity of having the maximum size that can be printed with HP systems." Orders are coming in regularly from Nikhef and its European partners, and in addition to the spheres, numerous smaller components have been printed in 3D, again for the KM3NeT project. As Edward Berbee of Nikhef says: "We have been working on this project since 2013 and over the years we have contacted about 50 different suppliers. Initially, the prices of 3D printing were unfeasible, then we found a supplier with reasonable prices, but he was only able to make the component in 2 divided parts that we had to glue afterwards. This solution - continues Berbee - was certainly not optimal, so we continued to analyze new technologies, until we discovered the interesting performance of HP's Multi Jet Fusion systems. While we were considering whether or not a research institution like ours should purchase the system, we read an article announcing Weerg's record-breaking installation of HP 3D printers”. Berbee and his team immediately placed an initial test order, which proved to be excellent in terms of service and quality. Another extremely attractive benefit for Nikhef was the option of painting the parts offered by Weerg, which the Institute previously did manually. "The parts we order from Weerg are painted black at a cost that is absolutely competitive with the resources we had to deploy."
The material chosen for their manufacture is Nylon PA12, offered by Weerg along with PA11 and polypropylene. Rigid and resistant, it is in fact ideal for functional prototypes and final parts ensuring an excellent chemical resistance to oils, greases, hydrocarbons. Moreover, nylon PA12 absorbs very little humidity, thus guaranteeing excellent performance in any environment and condition. Asserting the quality of technologies and materials, Nikhef also confirms the excellence of Weerg's customer service: "We always receive very quick answers, even at night and on weekends".
Regarding the usability of Weerg's e-commerce, Berbee comments: "The platform is extremely easy to use and even easier for repetitive orders because it allows you to access your library of files that have already been uploaded". Another aspect Nikhef appreciates is the ability to have discounting inversely proportional to delivery time. "We can schedule our work ahead of time and that, for the same quality, gives us a significant economic advantage," adds Berbee.
When the KM3NeT project is completed there will be more than 6,000 spheres installed on the seafloor in three different locations, off the coast of France, Italy and Greece. "We are proud to have been chosen by Nikhef to contribute, albeit in a small way, to the realization of this project. The value we have been recognized for is related to the fact that we can make these components very easily, uploading the files online from anywhere in the world and receiving the order in a few days with the same guarantee of compliance and quality throughout Europe," says Zanardo and confirms Berbee. "All the jobs we have commissioned have been done with high quality standards and great compliance. This fully meets one of the requirements of our project, which requires shipping components to different sites." And the components printed by Weerg have been sent to Athens, Catania, Strasbourg, Naples, Erlangen, etc. without any problems.
Some components printed by Weerg have already been used and positioned in our site in the Mediterranean Sea off Toulon where, to date, 108 spheres are already operational. Another detection station in Sicily is under construction and by April will see the installation of 90 units. "Without wanting to please anyone, based on my experience, I can say that Weerg is the best 3D printing service in the world in all respects," Berbee states firmly.
The KM3NeT project will be completed in 2024 off the coast of France, where low-energy neutrinos generated by cosmic rays interacting with the Earth's atmosphere will be detected. Off the coast of Italy it will be completed by 2026. Here the studies will focus on neutrinos resulting from supernovae caused by what can be considered as the final acts of distant stars.


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