When observing the 3D printing innovations that have taken place in universities across the world, few educational establishments have matched the success of Michigan Tech and their Open Sustainability Technology Lab. Utilizing an open source delta RepRap, Michigan Tech has some achieved amazing feats, including the creation of a metal 3D printer that cost under $2,000 to build. Michigan Tech has also innovated with an environmentally conscious mind, receiving recognition and a handsome $25,000 grant from Ford for their developments in recycled filaments. Now, the Michigan Tech team is harnessing the power of the sun to take 3D printing off of the grid, developing a solar-powered 3D printer based off of their delta RepRap.
By embedding a solar photovoltaic-powered mobile system into the lab’s RepRap, the Open Sustainability Technology Lab developed a 3D printer that is perfect for those living without proper access to electricity, or those wishing to disconnect from the fossil fuel grid. The solar-powering component is composed of a PV stand-alone power and battery charging system, with additional 3D printed parts needed to secure the solar panels. Consistently focused on keeping their 3D printing innovations open source, Michigan Tech’s new solar printer can be built for around $1,000, a massive price cut in comparison to other mobile solar-powered 3D printers on the market that cost around $2,500.
“The innovations presented in this project are of great significance in general to all 3-D printing operators who now have the choice of transporting their mobile systems wherever they desire without the limitation of grid electricity,” the Michigan Tech research team said in the conclusion of their detailed study. “This also has far reaching implications for the adoption of 3-D printing technology in off-the-grid rural communities to enable distributed manufacturing.”
In addition to the relatively affordable price for solar power, the modified delta RepRap can also be upgraded to a PCB mill, vinyl cutter, paste printer, among other freely available tool conversion designs. The entire blueprint for the solar-powered RepRap is already available for free download on Appropedia. Michigan Tech’s development of an affordable solar-powered 3D printer model can potentially help make 3D printing accessible anywhere in the world. Whether it’s a scientist who needs tools while out in the field, a farmer who needs to print some new equipment, or a humanitarian looking to manufacture certain supplies in off-grid communities, solar-powered 3D printers such as Michigan Tech’s modified delta RepRap can certainly benefit any Maker under the sun!