Tuesday 21 October 2014

Solar Sinter, 3D Printer That Uses Sunlight to Melt Sand Into Glass

Markus Kayser
Solar Sinter Concept 

In our world with shortage of energy production and raw material which is of great concern, a project exploring the capabilities of desert manufacturing, has surfaced where energy as well as material seems to be in abundance. The project was developed by Markus Kayser during his MA studies in Design Products on Platform 13 at the Royal College of Art and built by him the `SolarSinter’ concept is not too dissimilar from laser sintering printers which are used in operations such as SpaceX for printing impossible objects from metal.

 A focused sun beam is less precise than a finely honed laser though the core concept remains the same. The product designer, Kayser from Hannover, Germany, had his solar powered sand printer taken to the Egyptian desert to portray how it functions. On harnessing the power of the Sun, he heated ordinary sand into glass to create natural and unique 3D objects.

In the experiment, sunlight as well as sand is used as raw material and energy in order to produce glass objects with the help of a 3D printing process, which combine natural energy and material with high tech production technology. Solar sintering would give rise to questions about the future of manufacturing, giving way to dreams on the full extent of the potential of production on the world’s most capable energy resource which is the sun.

Two Elements of Desert - The Sun & Sun

It was in August 2010, when the first solar machine – the Sun-Cutter was taken to the Egyptian desert in a suitcase which was a solar powered, semi-automated low tech laser cutter which used the power of the sun to operate it and directly harnessed its rays through a glass ball lens to `laser’ cut 2D components with the use of a cam guided system.

The Sun-Cutter created components in fine plywood with aesthetic quality of curious hybrid of machine made and nature craft because of the crudeness of its mechanism as well as the cutting beam optics together with variation in solar intensity and the outcome of the weather fluctuations.

The sun and the sand are the two elements which rule the desert world wherein the sun offers a huge potential of large amount of energy source while the sand with unlimited supply of silica in the form of quartz. This provided the experience of working in the desert with the Sun-Cutter directly with the new machine which brought together the two elements, where on heating silica sand to melting point and enabling it to cool solidified as glass.

Sintering – Central Process in Design Prototyping

This process of conversion of powdery substance through heating process to a solid form is called sintering and has become a central process in design prototyping in recent times as 3D printing or Selective Laser Sintering – SLS.

Laser technology is used in the 3D printers to create precise 3D objects from various powdered plastics, metals and resins since they are appropriate counterparts of computer drawn 3D designs data by the designer. With the use of the sun’s rays rather than laser and sand instead of resins, an entire new solar powered machine and production process in making glass objects which can tap into the vast supplies of sun and sand is found in the deserts.

In February 2011, the first manually operated solar sintering machine was tested in the Moroccan desert with good positive results leading to the development of the present larger as well as fully automated computer driven version – the Solar Sinter.

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