The idea of leveraging renewable energy sources to bring electricity to the developing world is a potential solution to a serious global problem. Companies are using 3D printing to shape and test innovative concepts and designs that can make a difference in the lives of millions of people.
Solar In a Suitcase: The Making of the FORTY2
This video on South Dakota start-up Peppermint Energy illustrates the company’s flagship product, the FORTY2, a portable solar generator that draws enough energy from the sun to provide light, refrigerate medicine or food, or power a laptop. A battery connected to the array stores power for use when the sun is down. Its simple format and rugged casing can ease disaster relief and elevate the quality of life where electricity is scarce. The energy it delivers is clean, reliable and free.
Behind the scenes, the story of how the FORTY2 was transformed from a spark of an idea into a desert-durable product with global distribution is inspiring. Peppermint’s president, Chris Maxwell said, “The theme that kept occurring to us was: How do we get energy to everyone, everywhere?” The challenge was to create a functional prototype, within budget (money and time) for real world design testing.
Without a moment to spare, the team at Peppermint Energy turned to FDM 3D printing technology from Stratasys for development of the FORTY2. This step enabled the Peppermint team not only to produce complex models for design verification, but also test functionality with the same durable ABS plastic used in today’s end product.
At three feet wide and roughly 60 pounds, the FORTY2 required a robust housing strong and large enough to hold all of its components. The first full-scale, working prototypes produced on a Fortus 3D Production System were so realistic that they enabled the Peppermint Team to identify and correct design issues, leading to a better product. For example, hand carrying the first prototype proved problematic so the Peppermint team decided to make the FORTY2 smaller, while ensuring that the solar panels were still able to generate the required power. Also one of the 3D printed prototypes revealed an unnecessary power switch on the outside of the case, leading to a simplified on/off design - the FORTY2 now turns on automatically when the unit is opened.
As a result of using Stratasys 3D printing for prototype design evaluation and validation, the company reduced time and significant savings of up to $250,000 in tooling costs compared with traditional mold-based techniques.
Peppermint Energy is a thriving startup business, growing and creating jobs based on the idea that clever, green innovation can improve lives and sustain profit margins. In response to the devastating Haiti earthquake in 2010, the FORTY2 was developed to bring emergency power to the area; as shown in the video, it is also being used in the rebuilding efforts. We dare you to watch the Peppermint story and not get the warm feeling that bright ideas are coming together to make the world a better place.
3D Printed Pedal Power!
Based in Alabama, Designs for Hope has developed an inexpensive, durable device that enables rotational energy to be harvested and stored from a bicycle - one of the simplest and most readily available forms of transportation in developing regions. This technology is quite impressive: the device holds a generator on a bike, harvests its power and conditions the electricity for storage in a battery.
The development team began making prototypes on a Dimension 3D Printer from Stratasys. After many design iterations and prototypes, the team finalized the device and has since worked with missionary networks to place units in the field. One recipient is a Uganda orphanage whose workers commute seven to ten kilometers daily by bike.
For Further Enlightenment …
Learn more about Peppermint Energy by reading the full case study and viewing the on-demand webinar “Building Success: 3D printing and entrepreneurship,” hosted by Chris Maxwell and Peppermint’s CEO, Brian Gramm. You can visit Peppermint Energy here.
Related: Designs for Hope brings free electricity to remote villages.