Distributed Manufacturing with 3-D Printing of Recreational Vehicle Solar Photovoltaic Mounting Systems

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Abstract

For the first time, low-cost open-source 3-D printing provides the potential for distributed manufacturing at the household scale of customized, high-value, and complex products. To explore the potential of this type of ultra-distributed manufacturing, which has been shown to reduce environmental impact compared to conventional manufacturing, this paper presents a case study of a 3-D printable parametric design for recreational vehicle (RV) solar photovoltaic (PV) racking systems. The design is a four-corner mounting device with the ability to customize the tilt angle and height of the standoff. This enables performance optimization of the PV system for a given latitude, which is variable as RVs are geographically mobile. The open-source 3-D printable designs are fabricated and analyzed for print time, print electricity consumption, mechanical properties, and economic costs. The preliminary results show distributed manufacturing of the case study product results in an order of magnitude reduction in economic cost for equivalent products. In addition, these cost savings are maintained while improving the functionality of the racking system. The additional electrical output for a case study RV PV system with improved tilt angle functionality in three representative locations in the U.S. was found to be on average over 20% higher than that for conventional mass-manufactured racking systems. The preliminary results make it clear that distributed manufacturing - even at the household level - with open-source 3-D printers is technically viable and economically beneficial. Further research is needed to expand the results of this preliminary study to other types of products.

Keywords

3-D printing; Photovoltaic; Racking; Distributed manufacturing; Frugal innovation; Open-source; Household manufacturing; Transportation energy; Additive manufacturing

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