Tech professor works on making an off-grid 3D printer

3D printers are great and possibly world-changing, but they are limited in one crucial regard -- they do require electricity.

A Michigan Technological University professor, Joshua Pearce, is working on a way to get 3D printers off-grid, for instance, using a solar photovoltaic panel array.

Pearce has researched both solar power and 3D printing in the past, and combined some of his work to look at two possible open-source solar-powered 3D printers, one designed for schools and businesses, and the other for remote communities with no electric access.

The first would have many uses in both the developed and developing worlds. Pearce envisions the panels being set up in a sunny schoolyard and connected to the stand-alone printer, which could be used to print anything from toys to tools. But that's a fairly big, non-portable setup. 

So he also designed a suitcase model. It can't make as large things, but it can replicate itself, and make parts for larger printers, and most importantly, can go almost anywhere.

"Say you are in the Peace Corps going to an off-grid community," Pearce says. "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."

He'll be publishing his new work in the October issue of Challenges in Sustainability.

Writer: Kim Eggleston
Source:  Michigan Technological University

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