Have you ever wanted to carry a solar powered 3D printer along wherever you go? 3D4MD has now made this possible. The company has packed a Cube 2 3D printer in a carry-on bag, with a portable photovoltaic and battery power supply system.
The novel, ultra-portable, solar powered 3D printer could help scientists on space missions, especially to Mars, print tools on demand without worrying about the electricity requirements. More importantly, on Earth, it could enable doctors to carry it around and print medical supplies as and when required, even in the most remote parts of the world.
Dr. Julielynn Wong, founder of 3D4MD and a member of the Made In Space initiative, intends to demonstrate the technical feasibility of powering a 3D printer using solar energy to manufacture functional and customized medical resources at a Mars analogue research station.
The 2nd generation Cube 3D printer was selected for its portability, due to its small size and low weight, which permitted its transport inside an airplane.
The current prototype, with three test designs made so far, consists of six solar panels in a 3-3-2 configuration, voltage regulator/capacitor, made from a power adapter and two 12-volt batteries in series, connected to power a FDM 3D printer.
According to Dr. Wong, the published maximum power requirements of this printer are 24V DC and 3.75 amperes. The printer’s 120V AC power supply can be bypassed and the printer can be run from 24V DC.
In evaluating the prototypes of the 3D printer, scientists during an analogue Mars mission discovered they could operate the 3D printer for a total of only one hour per day, but in that time they were able to make a functioning dental tool, scalpel handle, and a customized mallet sprint.
The time required to 3D print the items played a factor with respect to holding the power charge when solar panels were not available, while a specific inverter is included in the kit in case the standard Mars analogue mission battery pack cannot be transported on the plane due to varying airline regulations and acid batteries need to be obtained locally.
Upon evaluation, the team was able to refine the solar 3D printer to fabricate a choice of sixteen dental tools, or eight mallet finger splints, or seven scalpel handles on one fully charged 12V 150Wh battery with a 110V AC converter.
These tools were chosen because they have total relevance to what would be needed in a real-life scenario. They were also tested by experts in each field – a hand therapist, dentist, and surgeon.
Results indicate that it is possible to use solar energy to power a 3D printer at a Mars analogue research station, as well as used in the suitcase scenario for ‘off-grid environments.’
Furthermore, the ultra-portable PV-powered design can accommodate the use of a locally obtained lead acid battery in case it is not possible to transport the combined battery/inverter/charge controller onboard an aircraft.
Future work will determine the optimal design to permit the incorporation of locally obtained solar panels for 3D printing.
Image courtesy of Dr. Julielynn Wong/3D4MD