3D printing has been agreed upon by many to be an effective way for people in developing countries and areas to produce their own goods and start businesses. However, many of these areas have limited access to electricity, which means that creativity must be employed in order to run 3D printers. One thing that many of these areas have plenty of access to is sunlight, so solar-powered 3D printers are an easy solution.
At the end of May, students and faculty from the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) traveled to Cali, Columbia to deliver and show residents how to use a solar-powered 3D printer they had developed. Throughout the spring semester, the RIT team worked with partners from the Universidad Autónoma de Occidente (UAO) to develop the 3D printer as part of a Multidisciplinary Senior Design course. Six electrical, mechanical and industrial engineering students created a 3D printer power system that can switch power sources easily.
The team collaborated remotely with UAO students who were developing ways to use recycled plastic bottles as reinforcement for 3D printer filament.
“The goal is to implement this printing system in Colombia because their electricity isn’t that reliable and because 3D printers need a constant flow of electricity to function,” said Josh Cohen, an RIT student who worked on the project. “Having those backup power sources like the solar panels or the battery or also being able to plug into the grid are all things that will keep this printer up and running in the community.”
The project is a first step in an agreement reached by RIT and UAO last fall. The agreement is meant to develop student and faculty project and research exchanges centered on international product design theory and commercialization for developing economies. It was spearheaded by Associate Professor Marcos Esterman and former student Alvaro Rojas Arciniegas, who is now a faculty member at UAO. Esterman is hoping to expand the project into a series of programs that will help graduate and undergraduate students from both schools gain design and development experience while making a social impact.
“The more experiences that we can create for our students, the more realistic those experiences are, the better prepared they’re going to be to make an impact after graduation,” said Esterman. “Whether that impact is doing their own venture or working for a Fortune 500 company, the skills are very much transferrable and portable. We need to make, for this program in particular, entrepreneurship in a global environment real to our students and the sooner we can make that real, the better.”
The organizers of the solar 3D printer project also hope to help residents of a Cali neighborhood at high risk of attracting young people to gang activities to develop marketable skills in advanced manufacturing.
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