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Solar Powered Suitcase 3D Printer May Become Doctor’s Bag of the Future, or Used on Mars

by  – Unless you are involved in an organization geared toward helping those in need of food, healthcare, and housing in developing countries, it can easily be an out-of-sight, out-of-mind issue. This can often be the case in the world of technological innovation and 3D printing too, as we are awed by contemporary–and fun–devices, conveniences, and improvements in traditional processes.

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Dr. Wong

Not to be overlooked though is what 3D printing has to offer in terms of self-sustainability for developing countries and those who live in remote villages. While we are 3D printing a gaming figurine stateside, those in underprivileged areas may be having their lives changed for the better, forever–or saved altogether. And while we can extend all of these benefits to those in areas that are hard to reach, scientists also see this as a parallel with using 3D printers to sustain us in space, with Mars as a prime example.

The implications for exactly what 3D printing can do in isolated areas are staggering once you consider the self-sustainability angle. And that’s exactly what Dr. Julielynn Wong was thinking about when she embarked on the invention of the solar powered 3D printer, created by modifying an existing machine. They began with experimentation and consideration for 3D printing tools on Mars–and obviously, if we can operate a 3D printer there, taking it to an outlying area on Earth should be a piece of cake.

We’ve followed numerous stories regarding technology that can be used in remote locations, with handheld 3D printed diagnostic devices for testing everything from malaria in remote locations to 3D printed testing devices for water potability.

We have also followed numerous stories and concepts regarding 3D printing in space and looking at self-sustainability options, from 3D printed architecture and materials to be used somewhere like Mars to other concepts for 3D printing tools on the planet whose harsh climate we are so ambitious to conquer. Dr. Wong has come up with a specific piece of hardware that shows every sign for, one, definitely working in remote locations on Earth–and two, working in space, should we figure out all the other details.

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Photo by Julielynn Wong, M.D.

Pointing out that over one billion people lack access to electricity, and that in many off-grid regions, simple medical items are expensive and can take weeks or months to arrive at a clinic, Dr. Wong hopes doctors will be able to use her 3D printer to offset these serious challenges; in fact she hopes to see this as ‘the doctor’s bag’ of the future.

Details regarding the innovation have just been released in September’s Aerospace Medicine Human Performance journal in the article, ‘Ultra-Portable Solar-Powered 3D Printers for Onsite Manufacturing of Medical Resources.’  Dr. Wong has created a solar dynamic for the Cubify Cube 2nd generation 3D printer, so streamlined and compact that it could even be transported easily as carry-on luggage–thus its title. It can then easily be carried with the doctor to remote communities while traveling. This also applies to the theme of space, offering a piece of machinery that would be able to print supplies at a research station on Mars, for example.

“A 2014 study reviewed several solar-powered 3D printer designs and demonstrated the technical feasibility of powering two different mobile, opensource 3D printing systems with solar PV for potential use in off-grid rural communities,” states Dr. Wong in her paper. “Seven solar powered 3D printers could provide onsite manufacturing capabilities and potentially transform local economies for the 1.4 billion people who lack access to electricity.”

The current prototype, with three test designs made so far, consists of:

  • Six solar panels in a 3-3-2 configuration
  • Voltage regulator/capacitor, made from a power adapter
  • Two 12-volt batteries in series, connected to power a FDM 3D printer

“The published maximum power requirements of this printer are 24V DC and 3.75 A. The printer’s 120V AC power supply can be bypassed and the printer can be run from 24V DC,” states Dr. Wong in her paper.

In evaluating the prototypes of the 3D printer, scientists during an analogue Mars mission discovered they could operate the 3D printer for a total of only one hour per day, but in that time they were able to make a functioning dental tool, scalpel handle, and a customized mallet sprint.

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Photo by Julielynn Wong, M.D.

After the mission, upon evaluation, the team was able to refine the solar 3D printer to fabricate a choice of sixteen dental tools, or eight mallet finger splints–or seven scalpel handles on one fully charged 12V 150Wh battery with a 110V AC converter. These tools were chosen because they have total relevance to what would be needed in a real-life scenario. They were also tested by experts in each field–a hand therapist, dentist, and surgeon.

With this outcome, Dr. Wong and her team see it as completely possible that solar energy could be used for powering a 3D printer at a Mars analogue research station, as well as used in the suitcase scenario for ‘off-grid environments.’

“This ultra-portable PV-powered design can accommodate the use of a locally obtained lead acid battery in case it is not possible to transport the combined battery/inverter/charge controller onboard an aircraft,” stated Dr. Wong in her paper. “Future work will determine the optimal design to permit the incorporation of locally obtained solar panels for 3D printing.”

While future refinements and testing can evaluate the 3D printer’s true value in space, Dr. Wong stresses the benefits and importance of its being able to be so easily transported into remote communities for 3D printing of affordable medical tools and other items… more

SOURCE – 3D Printing.com