It's exciting to see where this hobby is going with all the new technologies being implemented. We're seeing more automation, more aquaculture, and better equipment. Despite these advancements, we're also seeing setbacks, such as the closing of fisheries and export bans.
Here we use 3D printing to make templates for building some of our equipment.
3D printing may have a place in aquaculture. It could be used to mass produce various size shells for hermit crabs, even species specific shells that are hard to source. Anyone interested in aquaculturing hermit crabs for clean up crews will have to source shells that are cheap enough to be competitive with wild caught hermit crabs. 3D printing might be a solution. Some basic designs, and intricate ornamental designs exist on sites like thingiverse already, but new shells would likely need to be designed for our use.
There are a few materials that these shells could be produced from. Resins, ABS plastic, ceramics, and PLA plastic. PLA is biodegradable, but I'm not sure if it is the same as biopellet plastics. Wouldn't that be cool if your hermit crabs reduced nitrates too? Ceramics are probably the most practical material to make shells from, since they're unlikely to float. Unfortunately ceramics don't appear to be developed enough yet for such fine detailed printing. Maybe in a few years we'll see this as a viable option.
Another application I think will be pretty important in the future is printing our rock structures. Perhaps someday our aquascapes will be designed on a computer first, and shipped to us in modular sections that assemble like a puzzle. We can even 3D scan natural rock to get a digital copy, which we can then print copies from. Another bonus with ceramic rock is that the high temperatures it's fired at will burn off any organics in the mixture, resulting in highly porous ceramic that water can pass through. This might make ceramic rock better than natural rock for filtration, and sustainability. A company could travel to the source country, scan a selection of premium rocks, and digitally export those rocks to be printed anywhere in the world.
The days of wild harvested rock may be coming to an end.