Below is a continuation of the previous blog post. Please click here to review What is UV and Why is It Important? (Part 1).
This ability to use UV as a fast catalyst lends itself to medical applications as well. No longer is it necessary to sit around waiting for the plaster cast to set on your broken arm or leg. Today’s casts can be formed and cured instantly. And nowadays Dentists use UV for such things as whitening, fillings, veneers, crowns, etc. This allows you to have a procedure done on your way to a lunch meeting! And all without the use of mercury! Truly remarkable technology!
Another modern process that benefits from rapid UV curing is the 3D printing or additive manufacturing fields. This is often referred to as “Rapid Prototyping” and it is becoming more-and-more popular as the cost of the machinery and materials fall and the strength and other properties in the final product improve. This is becoming pervasive across many industries. For instance, in addition to making prototype parts to test their designs, Ford Motor Company’s presentation demonstrated how they are also using this process to make one-of-a-kind fixtures for the assembly process. This reduces the time required to get a new tool into the hands of their assemblers, and also allows for multiple iterations to be tested and changes, inspired by experience, to be quickly incorporated, thus improving efficiency.
This also has implications for the medical industry as well. While we might all be able to easily see how new tools and assemblies might be moved through the development process faster using 3D printing (the same as they are through automotive) it goes even deeper. Now, custom orthotics can be fabricated specifically for the end user – important, since no two amputees are identical. Furthermore, complicated tumors and surgical situations can be recreated in 3D from x-ray and ultrasound imaging data allowing surgeons to examine the problem from multiple angles and plan a strategy prior to the actual surgical event. Again, truly remarkable technology!
In another presentation at RadTech’s Big Ideas Conference, we were introduced to incorporation of 3D printing into the fashion marketplace. This has been in use in the jewelry industry for some time, often to create the parts from which lost wax castings are made. Now, accessories like handbags and shoes are being created directly. Moreover, with the advent of large platform printers, entire garments, like dresses, jackets, shawls and scarfs, are being printed. It was suggested that this will save significant amounts of raw materials, since the 3D printing has almost no waste, especially when compared to the 30% drop in traditional fabric cutout practices. This also has the potential to eradicate the “sweat shop” environments that are characteristic of the garment industry.
The Food Chain
The IUVA (International Ultraviolet Association) presented a track at the conference on the use of UV in horticulture and the food and pharmaceutical industries – and there are many applications.
The use of UV in water purification has been well established for many years (I personally worked for a company that manufactured these systems in 1993!) UV-C in particular is a known germicidal, yet leaves no chemical residue. By managing the balance between UV-A, UV-B and UV-C, and controlling the dose to minimize the cellular damage discussed earlier, this can be extended to food preservation, enabling chemical-free spoilage control. It can also be an effective tool in preventing the kinds of food-borne illnesses often associated with fresh produce due to their field-to-table pathway.
The proper balance of UV can also be used to disinfect devices and surfaces used in the manufacturing and packaging of foods and pharmaceuticals – again, without the use of harmful chemicals. This can help to control cross-contamination, which is often associated with handling, washing, etc.
UV-A and UV-B are essential to the proper development of plant life. In fact, most grow lights extend their spectral range down into the UV bands to supply this necessary input to indoor growing environments. Recent developments in UV generation and control technology that enhance the development of plants mean that we can grow food safely and efficiently in a controlled environment, where the water and the air can also be cleansed of contaminants through UV technology. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the exploding cannabis industry where controlling cleanliness to pharmaceutical levels is essential for medical applications. In fact, the combination of growth enhancement and germicidal control (to suppress powdery mold – a common problem with cannabis) can produce a safer, more predictable and reliable crop.
Should I Care?
From the descriptions above it is probably clear that UV technology, though you may never have even heard of it, touches many parts of our lives. It may even seem like a “wonder solution”. Still, as with every good technology, we can find downsides and cautionary tales.
We are all aware of the fact that UV exposure sensitizes the skin and can cause cellular damage (three members of my family have had bouts with skin cancer which were attributed to sun exposure). The chemicals used to create UV curable coatings, adhesives, 3D building stock, etc. are no different. Therefore, the lights and the chemicals require proper handling by those familiar with their proper use and safeguards.
While this is often raised a reason that this technology is “dangerous”, I would suggest that this is a proverbial “red-herring”. These present far less of a concern than chemicals that we use with impunity every day, like gasoline or cleaning compounds. For instance, have you ever mixed bleach, or a cleaner containing bleach and ammonia or a window cleaner, containing ammonia? These common household cleaners, probably in each of our homes, create chloramine gas when mixed. The bottom line is that all of these chemicals require some common sense in their use.
When used properly, UV technologies have the potential to reduce or even eliminate the use of ozone depleting solvents in coating operations. Reduce waste in the textile and fashion industries. Improve our medical care. It can even improve our food supply by enhancing growth and increasing the yield, killing harmful bacteria, and preserving our foodstock – all without the use of harmful chemicals!
When the benefits and detriments are fairly evaluated, this technology is far too advantageous to ignore.