High-efficiency solar-powered 3-D printers for sustainable development
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The release of the open source 3-D printer known as the RepRap (a self-Replicating Rapid prototyper) resulted in the potential for distributed manufacturing of products for significantly lower costs than conventional manufacturing. This development, coupled with open source-appropriate technology (OSAT), has enabled the opportunity for 3-D printers to be used for sustainable development. In this context, OSAT provides the opportunity to modify and improve the physical designs of their printers and desired digitally-shared objects. However, these 3-D printers require electricity while more than a billion people still lack electricity. To enable the utilization of RepRaps in off-grid communities, solar photovoltaic (PV)-powered mobile systems have been developed, but recent improvements in novel delta-style 3-D printer designs allows for reduced costs and improved performance. This study builds on these innovations to develop and experimentally validate a mobile solar-PV-powered delta 3-D printer system. It is designed to run the RepRap 3-D printer regardless of solar flux. The electrical system design is tested outdoors for operating conditions: (1) PV charging battery and running 3-D printer; (2) printing under low insolation; (3) battery powering the 3-D printer alone; (4) PV charging the battery only; and (5) battery fully charged with PV-powered 3-D printing. The results show the system performed as required under all conditions providing feasibility for adoption in off-grid rural communities. 3-D printers powered by affordable mobile PV solar systems have a great potential to reduce poverty through employment creation, as well as ensuring a constant supply of scarce products for isolated communities.