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Printer Hardware

A Solar-Powered 3D Printer Prints Glass From Sand 139

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the print-your-dishes-off-the-grid dept.
Tx-0 writes in with a story in Colossal Art & Design. From the article: "Industrial designer and tinkerer Markus Kayser spent the better part of a year building and experimenting with two fantastic devices that harness the sun's power in some of the world's harshest climates. The first he calls a Sun Cutter, a low-tech light cutter that uses a large ball lens to focus the sun's rays onto a surface that's moved by a cam-guided system. ... Next, Kayser began to examine the process of 3D printing. Merging two of the deserts most abundant resources, nearly unlimited quantities of sand and sun, he created the Solar Sinter, a device that melts sand to create 3D objects out of glass."
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A Solar-Powered 3D Printer Prints Glass From Sand

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  • Fonts (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    But can it do sans serif?

  • Cam-guided? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    So, cam-guided, as in cam-guided [wikipedia.org] or CAM-guided? PLEASE, editors, do your jobs.

    • by Qzukk (229616)

      Or "cam" as in "camera", which was what I first thought.

      I'm guessing you were thinking this kind of CAM [wikipedia.org], since you only linked the mechanical one.

    • by Nadaka (224565)

      Its a computer assisted machining using a camera as input and a set of camber arms for positioning. Did I miss any other use of the "cam" that could apply?

  • Set a bunch of these loose in the Sahara printing out solar panels.
  • But, can you use it to incinerate ants?
  • I wonder how "portable" this sort of concept would be towards outpost construction on the Moon, Mars, etc.? It seems like it has the potential for saving mightily on transporting the "cement" used in other such printable hab concepts.
    • by elrous0 (869638) *

      Well, now that we have some shelter, all we need to live there is oxygen, water, atmospheric pressure, and food.

      • I know you are just trying to make some point. But being able to make structures from local sources. Will save a lot of extra shipping. A good size shelter will take the place of a lot of shipments of food, water, and oxygen. And if you could make a "Glass Dome" as part of a unibody design all the better because there will be less points of failure.... Of course I would be happier if I had a Dome within a Dome. In case one or the other broke.

    • It's hard to tell from the pictures exactly how porous that stuff is(it certainly looks rather rough; but it might be fully vitrified in the center with just a cosmetic crust of sand clinging to it); but, in principle, there certainly doesn't seem to be anything fundamentally wrong with using thermally-fused-whatever-mineral-dust-is-local-there as a construction material...

      The engineering might well get a bit hairy, especially for the moon, though... Temperatures high enough to sinter the stuff, much les
    • by yarnosh (2055818)
      Because a brittle glass brick structure is exactly what your average astronaut needs to shelter him from he harsh elements....
    • He who lives in a glass house shouldn't throw rocks - or live on a world whose lack of atmosphere means micrometeorites are both deadly and common.

      • Clever. However, I do not think we can rule this out based upon that line of thinking. To begin with there's no mention of the present physical properties of this material nor what they could be after refinement. As suggested in many sci-fi novels, micrometeorite damage can be mitigated through ablative foam skins. Further, it doesn't necessarily have to hold a vacuum. It could very well be used for structural purposes, as layer in a system of materials. Since the material is sintered, damage is local
  • Cool usage of the sun. I wonder if he can build houses with that printer?

    • Sadly, my first thought was "pyramids and monuments." Houses might be more beneficial to society.
      • But pyramids and monuments can easily get onto earmarks. Oddly enough it is easier politically to push towards building a monument then it is to build houses.

      • Yes, but he shouldn't throw stones.
    • by pz (113803)

      Bricks, or reasonable approximations thereto, probably. Whole houses in one go might be difficult, though.

      • by nschubach (922175)

        You could place a long arm on it with one end anchored to the ground and use wheels on the machine to keep it facing the sun. Let it build arches while it tracks the sun across the sand. You could have the machine focus the sun with an oscillator to increase the thickness. The hard part would be supplying sand to melt when it got higher up. I guess some sort of screw elevator would work for that while providing a ramp for the wheel to travel. Of course, one arch would take several days with that method

      • by timeOday (582209)
        It looks to me like you could build a 1-piece house with nothing but a fresnel lens good enough to sinter sand. Most of the complexity here is the computerized moving table to enable computer-aided design, and the sun tracker - which are very cool, but limit the size of the item constructed, and require solar cells and a computer. With nothing but the lens, you could still melt yourself a nice crude house, or a basin to hold or collect water, or an adobe oven. In practice I suppose you'd at least want a
        • by nschubach (922175) on Tuesday June 28, 2011 @04:52PM (#36604092) Journal

          You could create a machine that has a consistent speed based on a variable input (like a water wheel/windmill/steam/Stirling engine [you got the sun already...]) by using centrifugal governors and a conical gear. With enough machinery it could operate almost entirely without solar panels and create repetitive simple shapes like bricks for the actual building. Doing something more complex though and you'll want some programmable mechanism like a computer.

          I even wonder if you couldn't set up a mechanical sun tracker simply based on the heat it provides (ie, the sun moves over a plate which expands closing a circuit/friction plate that pushes itself out of the sun, cooling and opening back up.)

          • Mother Earth News had a solar tracker in the 70s that worked with sealed gas cylinders. If the leading cylinder got warm it slowed the tracker down. If the following cylinder got warm it sped up. Simple, no electronics tracking.

            Personally I'd prefer a daily reset clockwork mechanism if only b/c it's simpler and uses fewer materials. Sealed gas cylinders seem fiddly and complicated. We've been making clocks for a VERY long time including periods with crude materials and no electronics. I might make the

    • by MrTester (860336)
      Yes.
      And in an ironic twist, it can also make baseballs.
    • In principle yes, but not with that printer. OTOH, he certainly can build "bricks" with that thing.

  • Annealing? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by istartedi (132515) on Tuesday June 28, 2011 @03:59PM (#36603222) Journal

    I've got a passing interest in glasswork, and one of the things I learned is that it's more complicated than "melt into mold, let it cool". Glass has to go through a carefully controlled cool-down period so that the molecular structure will set up properly. Otherwise, the resulting object is far more brittle than it should be. If not done properly you can have cracks form during the cooling phase, ruining the object.

    Does the incremental deposition solve the annealing problem? Being able to make glass objects without having to carefully control the cool-down would be very nice.

    • It's sintering, and it looks like you end up with lots of little pits and stuff in the finished work. It's also probably a glass-sand aggregate of sorts. They didn't show close-ups of the objects, or any attempt to "finish" them. They might be strong when finished, but not clear.

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        For bricks and other building material it seems like this sort of material should be fine. Assuming it is not too brittle.

    • Good point, and it isn't discussed in the article or on his website. And what about the impurities in the desert sand?
    • I couldn't watch the video (slashdotted?) but the picture of the object he made looks like a proof-of-concept for solar sintering, not a finely-manufactured object that meets any kind of standard for quality.

      Don't get me wrong, this is a really cool machine, but it's more "wow" value right now than something you'd want to buy.

      • by Carnivore (103106)

        I've found that for whatever reason, I can't watch embedded Vimeo videos. If you click through to the source page, it works just fine. I'm on Linux with Firefox 5, latest version of Flashplayer for Linux.

        • by EvilIdler (21087)

          Check if you have any aggressive AdBlock settings or similar. I had issues, despite using ClickToPlugin in Safari (which gets the video instead of Flash when available). Turns out trying to filter Flash ads doesn't always work well :)

          Awesome prototype anyway. Looks like it took the better part of an evening to create one bowl, though!

        • by cruff (171569)

          I have this problem also for embedded Vimeo stuff. Always have to click through, not worth the time to figure out why.

      • by nschubach (922175)

        I think a lot of the look of the object is based on the rather crude focal point of the lenses he setup and the fact that the depth was not fixed (he would skim sand over it seemingly at random with variable depths from the video. If you had a method of putting a finer layer of sand over a more controlled focal area it may come out nicer.

    • Re:Annealing? (Score:5, Informative)

      by smellsofbikes (890263) on Tuesday June 28, 2011 @04:50PM (#36604042) Journal

      I've got a passing interest in glasswork, and one of the things I learned is that it's more complicated than "melt into mold, let it cool". Glass has to go through a carefully controlled cool-down period so that the molecular structure will set up properly. Otherwise, the resulting object is far more brittle than it should be. If not done properly you can have cracks form during the cooling phase, ruining the object.

      Does the incremental deposition solve the annealing problem? Being able to make glass objects without having to carefully control the cool-down would be very nice.

      I was a glassblower and glass bead artist for a while. Careful cooling is pretty essential for lime glass, which is what we mostly use. It's less important for borosilicates like Pyrex, which is why glass casserole dishes can survive being put onto 200C metal racks in the oven, and it's even less important for fused quartz that's straight silicon dioxide. You can stick a pyrex rod that's less than a centimeter in diameter straight into an oxypropane flame without it splitting or snapping, and I believe you can do the same with a 3 or 4 cm quartz rod. Obviously this stuff isn't pure silicon dioxide, but it's closer to SiO2 than it is to lime glass.

      Incremental deposition probably won't solve the annealing problem, but it'll change it: instead of having strain across big areas, you'll have little bits of strain distributed between each layer of glass that's put on so you're liable to get a lot of small cracks through the porous material, rather than one big catastrophic crack. However, all those little cracks generally tend to grow, but that may be somewhat helped by it being an amorphous, impure material: it's harder for cracks to run in long straight lines in crappy heterogenous stuff.

  • I gotta get me one of those.
  • by Kamiza Ikioi (893310) on Tuesday June 28, 2011 @04:19PM (#36603532) Homepage

    I, for one, welcome our new self replicating, desert dwelling overlords.

  • Because then I can finally download a car.

  • This is high tech.

    Someone once explained to me the difference between low, medium, and high tech:

    Low Tech: You can see how it works. Example: a mechanical wristwatch.

    Medium Tech: You make the components so small, you can't see how it works. Example: a digital wristwatch.

    High Tech: You make it out of the right stuff and in the right shape, and it Just Works. Example: a microwave waveguide.

    I submit this also qualifies as high tech.

    • by Ksevio (865461)

      By watching the video, it's pretty clear how the basic process works - Giant magnifying glass aimed at the sand melts it.

      The moving around to the right location is the complicated part.

      • Yeah, the mechanics are low tech, and the controls medium tech, but I would submit that a Fresnel lens is high-tech, and possibly also the composition of the sand.

  • by fotbr (855184) on Tuesday June 28, 2011 @05:00PM (#36604218) Journal

    Original source is here: http://www.markuskayser.com/work/solarsinter/ [markuskayser.com]

  • ...Merging two of the deserts most abundant resources, nearly unlimited quantities of sand and sun....

    ... for finite values of "unlimited".

    Because otherwise it's nowhere close to "unlimited".

    Geeze, people... how hard is it to grasp the notion that infinity is... well... infinite.

    • by markana (152984)

      Oh, this is just the use of the word "unlimited" in the cellular carrier sense...

      as in, "unlimited data" == 2GB.

      Simple.

  • Ball lenses are handy things, and can be dangerous in direct sunlight - especially larger ones.

    For most materials, like glass, their focal lengths generally extend away from their surface a distance less than their radius, and approach the surface as the wavelength extends into the infrarad, which means if you carry an uncovered glass sphere around on the beach or in the desert, you will burn your hand or set fire to your glove.

    I learned this secondhand one day, at a beach gathering of Tolkien society geeks

    • by Tacvek (948259)

      She wouldn't touch the thing again.

      Also, speaking of ball lenses... you can use your head as a ball lens to extend the range of your car's wireless entry key fob. If you find yourself just out of range of your keys, simply put the transmitter about an inch behind your head, directly *opposite* the car. Your head is mostly transparent to the RF, but has a slightly different index of refraction from air/vaccum, thus acts as a lens. And since your head is approximately spherical, it works well enough to make a practical convergent lens.

      Really?!! Deliberately focusing radio waves via your head!?! Are you nuts!!?

      Honestly though I would have assumed that the effect described was due to one of the other many unusual characteristics of RF that I never really payed attention to. The head as a lens would never have occurred to me.

      • by gknoy (899301)

        Well, the waves will be going through your head anyway, may as well cause them to take a path that is beneficial insofar as it gets a signal to your car better, right?

        • by Tacvek (948259)

          In order for the waves to be going through my head, I'd need to take off my tinfoil hat (it's more of a helmet really) first, you insensitive clod. ;-)

    • by shess (31691)

      Also, speaking of ball lenses... you can use your head as a ball lens to extend the range of your car's wireless entry key fob. If you find yourself just out of range of your keys, simply put the transmitter about an inch behind your head, directly *opposite* the car. Your head is mostly transparent to the RF, but has a slightly different index of refraction from air/vaccum, thus acts as a lens. And since your head is approximately spherical, it works well enough to make a practical convergent lens.

      Odd, I've always heard it as that you hold the fob under your chin.

  • Could this be useful on the moon?
  • What other materials could be melted for other applications?

    Can the target spot be made smaller?

    What type of drill(s) could be used to polish?

    All in all, this is definitely a candidate for the "What's Cool for 2011" award.

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