Portable solar-powered 3D printers can make the printing possible in off-grid communities
3D printers we use at home or in offices can create all kinds of objects. It’s a good way to let you easily develop prototypes and replacement components that improve our lives greatly. However it’s clear that a 3D printer needs a great amount of electricity. So in the areas that lack electric power there is little that a printer can do. What happens if the electricity goes out just in the middle of the printing process? Associate professor at Michigan Technological University Joshua Pearce has been designing various open-source mobile digital manufacturing appliances that could give everybody means of production. To create solutions like open source solar-powered 3D printers the professor researches both 3D printing and solar energy. So this solar-powered 3D printer will create objects everywhere where there is sunlight.
The first of such appliances is the community-scale mobile 3D printer that represents a stand-alone printer and a range of solar photovoltaic panels. This appliance is suitable for schools or centers where various users of the community can use the equipment. The first movable solar powered RepRap is a Mendel version that runs RAMPS1.3 with an SD card and uses off-the-shelf constituents. So it saves energy printing without any connection to the computer.
The system has 4x120Ah batteries and 2×220 W PV panels, and the user has about 35 hours of a single charge for printing. The system utilizes an inverter to transform ВС power of batteries and the PV into the common AC signal. The common power bar can be linked up to the inverter and that’s how it can charge or run a number of printers or laptops at a time. It also has adaptable legs, which can change the angle correspondingly to the highest level of sun exposure. Using this device you can make costly objects for pennies. However it’s not really portable.
The next system is smaller and more portable solar-powered open-source 3D printer that can easily fit in a suitcase. Its designs is based on FoldaRap, a RepRap version created by Emmanuel Gilloz – a French engineer. It is built on the extruded aluminum base which can fit a 350 x 210 x 100 mm frame. The ultra-portable notebook Efika MX Smartbook controls the printer. The notebook can run 7 hours using just one charge. The appliance has lithium-ion batteries and semi-flexible light-weight PV modules for full mobility.
The modules are made up of mono-crystalline silicon cells of extreme efficiency. The weight and size are lowered by using cells on aluminum backing and covering them with a gel, instead of the common glass panel front and aluminum frame. The system has five 20 W modules that give 100 W at just about 10 lb. You can easily transport such a system in a suitcase.
3D printed examples: Avocado pit germination holder and cross tweezers
Pearce took three samples from Thingiverse to check his printers’ accuracy and printing time. Both of his printers proved to be suitable for digital fabrication. With enough sunlight the community-scale RepRap spent a number of hours printing continuously.
Initially the price of the suitcase and community printers was $1,300 and $2,500 respectively. Pearce hopes that the prices will lower considerably if the price of the open-source 3D printers and PV reduces.
More information about those two 3D printers can be found here.