Solar-Powered 3D Printing

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Manufacturing in areas of the developing world that lack electricity severely restricts the technical sophistication of what is produced. More than a billion people with no access to electricity still have access to some imported higher-technologies; however, these often lack customization and often appropriateness for their community. Open source appropriate technology (OSAT) can over­come this challenge, but one of the key impediments to the more rapid development and distri­bution of OSAT is the lack of means of production beyond a specific technical complexity. This study designs and demonstrates the technical viability of two open-source mobile digital manufacturing facilities powered with solar photovoltaics, and capable of printing customizable OSAT in any com­munity with access to sunlight. The first, designed for com­munity use, such as in schools or maker­spaces, is semi-mobile and capable of nearly continuous 3D Printing using RepRap technology, while also powering multiple computers. The second design, which can be completely packed into a standard suitcase, allows for specialist travel from community to community to provide the ability to custom manufacture OSAT as needed, anywhere. These designs not only bring the possibility of complex manufacturing and replacement part fabrication to isolated rural communities lacking access to the electric grid, but they also offer the opportunity to leap-frog the entire conventional manufacturing supply chain, while radically reducing both the cost and the environmental impact of products for developing communities.


Appropriate Technology; Distributed Manufacturing; Open Source Hardware; Photovoltaic; Solar Energy; 3D Printing


Other Versions of Solar Powered 3-D Printers


Dr. Joshua Pearce:

"Our group is about half solar scientists and engineers and half 3D printer researchers and makers so these projects allow everyone to have some fun together. Our solar-powered RepRap prototypes are constantly evolving – the first was a Mendel on a large cart for schools, which is a joint project with Saint Lawrence College in Canada. A second one is a suitcase solar Fold-a-Rap printer. In the works is a MOST delta-bot with flexible solar cells that should fit in a carry on and push the limits on self-reproduction all while driving the costs into the floor.

Our latest work on 3D printable solar racking is extremely promising and we are making major headway with cutting the costs of solar photovoltaic systems because most real research has focused exclusively on the modules. Meanwhile we have a raft of projects with the end goal being total self-reproduction of RepRaps. We are just finishing a parametric open-source syringe pump that will be great for science in general – but also helpful for moving to the next level of materials printing.

It will not be long before we can make a RepRap from waste plastic with solar energy only – it is an emergent technology and I am sure we will see cool versions popping up all over the world." (