Additive Manufacturing Strategies

Simusolar and Sculpteo Use 3D Printing to Bring Solar Energy to Tanzania

ST Medical Devices

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Between three countries – Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania – is Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa. On its shores, the people of Tanzania depend on the fish that come from its waters. Not long ago, fishermen would go out at night with oil lamps burning to fish in the coolest part of the day, but now they use solar LED lights, which are safer and provide more light. In Tanzania’s homes, children study by the light of solar lamps, rather than trying to see by the insufficient light of the oil lamps, which also caused problems with smoke and soot.

Those solar lights were developed by Simusolar, a company that provides affordable solar energy for rural, off-the-grid communities in sub-Saharan Africa. With headquarters in both Tanzania and California, Simusolar aims to help remote communities become self-sustainable so that their people aren’t forced to relocate to more populated, connected areas to find work, and it aims to do it in a manner that causes no harm to the environment.

Simulsolar provides not only solar lights but other solar-powered equipment, including water pumps, small business equipment, etc. Each piece of equipment has a custom circuit board integrated into it, so that it can be controlled and monitored remotely using GSM technology.

Like so many providers of energy technology, Simusolar has relied on 3D printing for parts of its manufacturing processes. Recently, the company needed a small, complex part made from electrically insulating material for its circuit board installation. The Simusolar team looked into injection molding, but the cost of tooling was too high, so they turned to 3D printing for the product’s alpha run, which would require only 100 parts.

After trying to 3D print the part with a small subcontractor, Simusolar realized that the complexity of the part required more high-end equipment than the subcontractor had available, so the company turned to Sculpteo and its SLS 3D printing technology.

“The Sculpteo SLS process has much higher 3D printing resolution and makes more robust parts at a reasonable price. It is our go-to 3D method of choice for most projects,” Simusolar explained.

The Simusolar team was also a fan of Sculpteo’s pricing.

“Most vendors charge a base fee plus to start a 3D print then add one for material and machine time,” the company continued. “Sculpteo broke this model. This means they can provide small complex parts for as little as $7 each.”

3D printing and solar power have, in a sense, grown up together, and as the two technologies continue to advance, they’re becoming more and more intertwined. 3D printing has been used to create more efficient solar power collectors, and we’ve even seen solar powered 3D printers tried out in Tanzania before. Solar power can also be used to power 3D printers, creating a more sustainable ecosystem of creation. It’s interesting how advancement is born out of need, and that it’s often the communities that lack access to traditional resources such as electrical grids that end up implementing innovative, next-generation technology like solar power first.

Simulsolar has only been around since 2014, but has already made tremendous impact on the lives of people in remote areas of Africa, without having any negative impact on the environment. You can learn more about some of the impact the company has made below:

https://vimeo.com/166228841

Let us know your thoughts about 3D printing and solar energy in projects like this one made possible in rural Africa. Discuss in the Solar Energy forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source/Images: Sculpteo]

 

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