From turning your photos into three dimensional models to creating ultra thin wings for insect robots, 3-D printers have been enjoying their moment in the sun. So much in fact, these printers are now literally harnessing that sunshine.
Markus Kayser, an MA student at the Royal College of Art in London, has created the Solar-Sinter, a 3-D printer that is powered by two photovoltaic panels. It also focuses the sun's rays to heat sand to its melting point so that, as the sand cools into glass, it forms a device for 3-D computer designs.
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Many traditional 3-D printers use lasers to melt resin or plastic powders until particles bond to each other in a process known as sintering. Kayser figured out he could use the sun's rays as a laser and silica sand in place of resin or plastic powder to create 3-D glass objects.
In February 2011 Kayser first tested a manually-operated solar-sintering machine in the Moroccan desert. Impressed by the results, he developed a larger, fully-automated computer driven version that he tested for two weeks last May in the Sahara Desert near Siwa, Egypt.
That machine is composed of a large Fresnel lens that focuses the sun's rays onto a platform holding silica sand. The photovoltaic panels power a sun tracked that keeps the focal point on target. Once a layer is completed, the platform drops to allow for the sintering of the next layer, as so one, until the object is finished.