If you compare the various 3D printers available on the market today and you’ll find a few things are true across the board. They all need filaments.
They also all need power. That makes using them a challenge in many developing communities where access to reliable electricity is sketchy at best.
A new solution is on the way, though. An open source 3D printing system that relies on solar power might be just the thing to help these communities benefit from 3D printing technology.
Powering a 3D Printer with Solar
The new solution is being developed by a team of researchers out of the Michigan Tech Open Sustainability Technology Lab. They chose to use RepRap technology because of its open source nature, combined with cutting-edge solar technology.
The goal of the project was to determine if it was feasible to bring 3D printing to outlying communities where power was scarce or even nonexistent. According to the results, not only is it possible, but it’s easier than many thought it would be.
This is important for a number of reasons, but particularly because at least a billion people on the planet currently live without access to electricity. And that number is set to grow as the population boom continues.
“IEA predicts that by 2030, population growth particularly in sub-Saharan Africa will surpass the pace of electricity access, resulting in 75% of the population of sub-Saharan Africa not having access to electricity by 2040,” explains the paper published by the team in the journal, Machines.
By combining solar technology with modern 3D printing, many things could be enabled for these outlying communities. It would be possible to print farming tools, construction tools, medical equipment, and even basic prosthetics right on site, without any need for industrial manufacturing, or even a supply of electricity from the grid.
To answer this growing need, the research team combined a RepRap printer, a polymer Li-ion rechargeable battery, and solar panels. They also faced a number of challenges, one of the most significant being the creating of a PV charging system that would work well outdoors for a long time, while supplying ample power to operate a 3D printer indefinitely.
It was a challenge the team was up to. “The results show the system performed as required under all conditions, providing feasibility for adoption in off-grid rural communities,” stated associate professor Joshua Pearce.
While the setup will not enter commercial production, the full plans and schematics are available to download online. The software is also available free of charge.