Additive Manufacturing Strategies

TU Delft Assistant Professor Reimagines the Power Outlet Via 3D Printing

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p3While the designs of some products seem to change a few times a year — for example, smartphones — there are other products in our everyday lives which have remained relatively unchanged for decades. Objects as complicated as the combustion engine, or products as simple as the electrical sockets or outlet covers within our homes and businesses, are designed relatively the same as they were 50 years ago.

If you step into a home built during the first half of the 20th century, which has not been modified much, you would notice that the electrical outlets and their covers look pretty similar to those seen in homes being constructed today. The only major difference may be the materials used, as plastics were not exactly popular pre-1950. The United States is not the only geographic location which seems to be stuck in a time-trap; European power outlets remain relatively unchanged as well.

Researchers, led by Dr. Jouke Verlinden at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, have decided that it’s about time for a change. They have been using 3D modeling and printing technology to showcase new power sockets which stray far from the ordinary.

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It’s only a matter of time before 3D printing becomes a major technology within the construction industry. There are already several projects underway to 3D print structures such as homes and apartment buildings. Such techniques allow for total customization, while also saving time and money.

Verlinden wanted to demonstrate the possibilities of digital manufacturing for construction, so he started by creating a new type of power socket (designed by PhD student Zjenja Doubrovski), one which is able to wrap around the corner of a wall.

Dr. Jouke Verlinden

Dr. Jouke Verlinden

“The point of the corner outlet is just a demonstration that architects and interior designers can think outside the box, beyond the suppliers catalogs,” explained Dr. Jouke Verlinden to 3DPrint.com. “For small series, special projects and renovations 3D printing makes perfect sense. Even today. Industrial design plays a role here, that’s why we’re investigating this (as well as many other applications, like medical/health and cultural heritage). For example, the USB ports in our design are located at the bottom of the socket, to allow a better aesthetics and a natural safety if anybody steps on the usb wire.”

Verlinden believes that as power consumption in homes requires less wattage, and the installation of solar panels on rooftops spreads, DC (direct current) power will eventually overtake AC (alternating current) power. With the lower wattage required of DC power, safety will no longer be an issue when designing outlets and outlet covers. This means that all sorts of incredible designs will be made possible, designs which will likely come about thanks to 3D printing.

“The future is to have a DC infrastructure in the complete house as stated in my previous mail,” explained Verlinden. “And shape and material can be customized by design – either by manufacturers or open sourced.”

The design files for Verlinden’s corner outlet can be found on Thingiverse. It took him approximately 4 hours to print a single outlet on an Ultimaker 2 3D printer without any support material being required. Verlinden is now seeking partners to further develop infrastructure within the construction industry.

Let’s hear your thoughts on Verlinden’s design and ideas. Discuss in the 3D Printed Electrical Socket forum thread on 3DPB.com

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