Solar 3D printers take manufacturing off the grid

solar 3d printer
© Debbie King

3D printers have been designed for using plastic, metal, cement -- they've even been designed for manufacturing in space. Now, for the first time, a 3D printer system is ready to go off the grid. Joshua Pearce, a researcher at Michigan Technological University, has developed open-source solar-powered 3D printers for developing regions where access to electricity can be scarce or unreliable.

Pearce wants the technology to be able to reach everyone and sees a great need for on-site manufacturing in developing regions. He has designed two systems, one that is a large printer with an array of solar panels that could be installed at places like schools, medical facilities or businesses for printing anything from toys to lab equipment.

The other printer is smaller, more mobile and better suited for remote communities. Featuring foldable solar panels, it can fit in a suitcase for portability. Although it is smaller, it's a RepRap printer, so it can replicate itself or make parts for larger printers.

“Say you are in the Peace Corps going to an off-grid community,” said Pearce. “You could put your clothes in a backpack and take this printer in your suitcase. It’s a mobile manufacturing facility that can make whatever you and the community need or value. It has nearly unlimited flexibility.”

The greatest thing about 3D printing is the ability to make exactly what you need in the place where you need it. In places where access to goods, and electricity, is limited, having the ability to manufacture the things you need on-site could be incredibly beneficial.

Solar 3D printers take manufacturing off the grid
Groups working in developing regions could use solar-powered 3D printers to make tools, lab supplies and more on the go.

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