How I’m using 3D software to help design my aquaponics system, Part 3


When I first started this venture of creating an aquaponics system, I had no idea how scientific this hobby can be. For example, to ensure a healthy environment for the fish, test kits for ammonia, nitrate, nitrite and pH levels are all standard now. Starting a fish tank involves adding nitrifying bacteria for a fishless cycle.

I also had no idea how artistic aquariums can be. Japan’s Takashi Amano took the basic fish tank to a new level with his world renown and award winning aquascapes. In 2012, The Wall Street Journal labeled him the Sage of Aquariums where the “tanks seek to outdo nature itself.” Mr. Amano’s tanks are truly mesmerizing.




Can 3D modeling and 3D printing top this? Well to be fair, it’s apples and oranges. Aquascaping uses rocks and plants from the natural world, whereas a 3D print is an extension of your own personal artistic sense. Both can be equally beautiful.

Ms. Haruka Misawa’s aquarium artwork is a great example of using 3d prints to create serene environments for our watery pets. Of course, 3D printing is still relatively new, so we are only in the beginning stages.






In my case, my daughter and I discussed what type of models would be good for our new fish tank. We came up with a “treasure bowl” (to store our pirate booty of course!) and a little house for the fish. I thought the heart-shaped windows, which also extend to the back of the house, were a nice touch on her end.

Diamonds in Bowl

Fish house

Unfortunately, these models are as far as I want to go for now, mainly due to health concerns. Specifically, I’m not eager to put either PLA or ABS plastics into the fish tank because I think both can leak out toxins that can harm the fish. One family safety-focused website,, says ABS is safe. However, I’m going to err on the side of caution because I’m also growing herbs from the fish water, so I don’t want my family to ingest plastic residual either. I will look into 3D printing ceramics or porcelain later.


Instead of a plastic 3D print, I’m going to use this little house that I found at the aquarium shop. It’s close to my daughter’s design so she likes it and was eager to place it in the tank, just on top of the slate. For me, I feel fortunate to have found a 3D roundhouse!

Looking back over the last four months, I’m glad I was able to use my (still elementary) 3D modeling skills to help me set up my home aquaponics system. One of the characteristics of the hobby is the system will need about six months to find the right balance between fish quantity (i.e. fish poop) and the plants I am growing. So there will be more trial and error. For now, while my wife is eyeing the Thai basil in the grow bed above the tank, I’m really pleased my daughter and I can sit in front of the tank before her bedtime to look for baby fish; we spotted two just last night!

Fish Tank 4




How I’m using 3D software to help design my aquaponics system, Part 2


The decision to use a proper aquarium stand allowed me to focus just on the support for the plant tray.

For that, I devised these options.

Fish Tank 5

White metal wall stand. I found a shop that sold these wall stands, which are covered in white plastic. Relatively stiff, the stand can usually be seen in retail shops holding up rows of socks or levels of candy. I thought such a frame would give me a lot of flexibility in terms of being able to hang just whatever I want on it. But in the end it just looked a little too crowded. Plus I didn’t want to drill into the wall to keep the frame upright.

Fish Tank 4

Adjustable metal stand. I ended up with this stand because it’s simple to assemble plus it also provides some flexibility in terms of being able to hang lights and fixtures on it. Aesthetically speaking, the metal frame is not ideal, but I think I can find a way to 3D print something with my daughter to make it look less “industrial.”

But, how do I actually suspend the plant tray in the metal stand? Lucky for me, Makerbay has scrap plywood from its wood workshops. I could just grab a few pieces after one of my Family 3D Printing Workshops and my design was essentially complete.

Would the metal stand and the scrap plywood be strong enough to hold an estimated 25 pounds from the plant tray? Remember that it will also be filled with water and a growth medium. I guess I will actually be testing my assembly skills because the metal frame with its nuts and bolts and plywood should hold up fine, as long as it’s properly put together.

Now the next phase and challenge, decorating outside and inside the fish tank with 3D printed objects.

More to come in Part 3.




How I’m using 3D software to help design my aquaponics system, Part 1


Last month, a YouTube video entitled, “Aquarium that requires NO water changes!” totally captivated me.

As a child, my dad maintained a fish tank in our apartment in Lower Manhattan, which I have fond memories of, so I thought it would be good to provide that for my daughter.

But Philly Aquaponics, which created the video, added an amazing benefit: no water changes! I needed to know how! The answer is aquaponics, a symbiotic system where fish and plants coexist in a mutually beneficial environment. When I explained to my daughter that we could be eating plants grown from fish poop, she was both disgusted and curiously delighted.


That video and my daughter’s reaction set off a chain of events. After more on-line research about aquaponics, I began to create a series of designs for the system. Surprisingly, my biggest issue was how to create a system that can be placed in my living room without having it clash too much with the rest of the furniture. Most systems that you find on line look like they belong in the basement, because they actually are in the basement!

One reason why so many aquaponics system designs look almost “industrial” is because the plant tray needs to be suspended somehow over the fish tank. Most designs I’ve seen on line are made of wooden beams nailed together to ensure function over form. I need something more suitable for a living room in a busy city apartment, which houses a five year old child who I hope can also learn something about some fundamental balancing forces of nature.

Lucky for me, I’m familiar with basic 3D modeling software so I can play with different design ideas, such as these.

Fish Tank 1

The first problem with this design though is only three sides of the plant tray will be supported because I need the space in the back for a fish tank light. The second problem is I don’t know what material would be strong enough to hold a plant tray, that might weight as much as a three year old child when filled with water, with support only on three sides. A final problem is whether or not the glass fish-tank can support all that weight. This idea looks clean, but is difficult to implement.

Fish Tank 2

For this second idea, I actually found a company that could custom-make this cabinet, out of wood. My daughter suggested the diamond design on the side. But the cabinet maker could not guarantee that such a cabinet can support my sizable fish tank that would weigh as much as 140 kgs (300 lbs). There were also dozens of wood finishing types available, which just made it more complicated than it needed to be. But just as important, it would be very difficult to access the fish tank every time I needed to reach into it for cleaning, etc.

Fish Tank 3

So, I decided to get a proper fish tank stand and searched for a solution to support the plant tray.

More to come in Part 2.