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3D printing brings low cost energy solutions to developing countries

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.
3D printed solar generator, peppermint energy, FORTY2
The FORTY2 brings reliable electricity to developing areas
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.

To download the full case study, click here.

Sometimes a new path becomes clear when you see the pitfalls of the old one. Brian Gramm was researching large-scale renewable energy, such as wind farms, when a totally new approach dawned on him. Rather than trying to make green energy look like the old, big-plant electrical grid, why not generate power right where it’s used, and let consumers have their own miniature power plants that can go anywhere?
“There are situations where large-scale solar is right, like office buildings. But the things that most of us use daily, most often, really don’t require much power,” said Gramm. He co-founded Peppermint Energy, a South Dakota company that makes a portable, plug-and-play solar generator called the FORTY2. Like a solar plant in a suitcase, the FORTY2 draws enough juice from the sun to power lights, laptops — even a dorm fridge. A battery stashes power and delivers it after sundown.

Inspiration to Distribution

Peppermint Energy Solar Generator in a Field The FORTY2 changed a lot between idea and delivery. At first, Gramm thought the device would resonate most with U.S. consumers — tailgaters and campers seeking off-the-grid recreation. But experts were most excited about what the FORTY2 could do in the developing world, where three billion people live without reliable electricity. If Peppermint’s device could power lights for working and learning after sunset, equipment for disaster relief, and refrigerators for penicillin, it could change lives.
Think of it: Lifesaving medicine could reach places it couldn’t go before. The device could also spark commerce in remote areas as entrepreneurs find ways to monetize free reliable power.
To do the most good, Gramm realized the FORTY2 had to be robust. In a portable size, providing the spikes of intense power that refrigeration demands was a big engineering challenge. Gramm set about assembling the talent, resources and relationships to put his vision to work. “Honestly all I had at this point was a bit of an idea, and a picture,” he said.
Once engineers had honed the device as far as possible in CAD, Peppermint needed a physical prototype. “It was hard for anybody, including me, to truly appreciate size and scale when you’re looking at it onscreen,” Gramm said. At three feet wide and likely to weigh 60 pounds, the FORTY2 required a seriously robust housing, complex and strong enough to hold all of its components. Fused Deposition Modeling™ (FDM®) was the only 3D printing method that could deliver.
The first full-scale prototype, built in a Fortus® 3D Production System, revealed some of the design considerations that led to the FORTY2’s delightfully simple operation. “It’s only when you see it in physical form that you realize the form and function should be the same,” Gramm said. For example, a power switch is unnecessary; just opening the FORTY2 turns it on. The Peppermint team also decided to make the whole device even smaller than intended after carrying the first prototype proved awkward. Gramm said if he had to do it all again, he’d use 3D printing even earlier in the process.

Modeling Relationships

A 3D printed prototype made of strong ABS plastic Surprisingly, the prototypes helped build another essential element to success: relationships. “Ever try to ask a vendor ‘Make me a custom thing that works in concert with a bunch of other stuff that I can’t show you’?” said Peppermint president Chris Maxwell. Full-size prototypes facilitated discussions with manufacturers and component vendors. Best of all, Maxwell said once the product was tangible, potential investors felt they were buying into a business, not just an idea. Some even took the prototype home for a weekend.
In a second iteration, the team discovered a 1/4-inch flaw in the FORTY2’s design, which Gramm said would have been overlooked in CAD. Additionally, the powerful battery required for refrigeration made it necessary to scale back other components. “We were able to make changes that I would estimate saved us at least a quarter of a million dollars in tooling,” said Gramm. Because of the two FDM prototypes, the team committed to production with confidence rather than hope.
- See more at: http://www.stratasys.com/resources/case-studies/consumer-goods/peppermint-energy#sthash.u3x8jih5.dpuf
Sometimes a new path becomes clear when you see the pitfalls of the old one. Brian Gramm was researching large-scale renewable energy, such as wind farms, when a totally new approach dawned on him. Rather than trying to make green energy look like the old, big-plant electrical grid, why not generate power right where it’s used, and let consumers have their own miniature power plants that can go anywhere?
“There are situations where large-scale solar is right, like office buildings. But the things that most of us use daily, most often, really don’t require much power,” said Gramm. He co-founded Peppermint Energy, a South Dakota company that makes a portable, plug-and-play solar generator called the FORTY2. Like a solar plant in a suitcase, the FORTY2 draws enough juice from the sun to power lights, laptops — even a dorm fridge. A battery stashes power and delivers it after sundown.

Inspiration to Distribution

Peppermint Energy Solar Generator in a Field The FORTY2 changed a lot between idea and delivery. At first, Gramm thought the device would resonate most with U.S. consumers — tailgaters and campers seeking off-the-grid recreation. But experts were most excited about what the FORTY2 could do in the developing world, where three billion people live without reliable electricity. If Peppermint’s device could power lights for working and learning after sunset, equipment for disaster relief, and refrigerators for penicillin, it could change lives.
Think of it: Lifesaving medicine could reach places it couldn’t go before. The device could also spark commerce in remote areas as entrepreneurs find ways to monetize free reliable power.
To do the most good, Gramm realized the FORTY2 had to be robust. In a portable size, providing the spikes of intense power that refrigeration demands was a big engineering challenge. Gramm set about assembling the talent, resources and relationships to put his vision to work. “Honestly all I had at this point was a bit of an idea, and a picture,” he said.
Once engineers had honed the device as far as possible in CAD, Peppermint needed a physical prototype. “It was hard for anybody, including me, to truly appreciate size and scale when you’re looking at it onscreen,” Gramm said. At three feet wide and likely to weigh 60 pounds, the FORTY2 required a seriously robust housing, complex and strong enough to hold all of its components. Fused Deposition Modeling™ (FDM®) was the only 3D printing method that could deliver.
The first full-scale prototype, built in a Fortus® 3D Production System, revealed some of the design considerations that led to the FORTY2’s delightfully simple operation. “It’s only when you see it in physical form that you realize the form and function should be the same,” Gramm said. For example, a power switch is unnecessary; just opening the FORTY2 turns it on. The Peppermint team also decided to make the whole device even smaller than intended after carrying the first prototype proved awkward. Gramm said if he had to do it all again, he’d use 3D printing even earlier in the process.

Modeling Relationships

A 3D printed prototype made of strong ABS plastic Surprisingly, the prototypes helped build another essential element to success: relationships. “Ever try to ask a vendor ‘Make me a custom thing that works in concert with a bunch of other stuff that I can’t show you’?” said Peppermint president Chris Maxwell. Full-size prototypes facilitated discussions with manufacturers and component vendors. Best of all, Maxwell said once the product was tangible, potential investors felt they were buying into a business, not just an idea. Some even took the prototype home for a weekend.
In a second iteration, the team discovered a 1/4-inch flaw in the FORTY2’s design, which Gramm said would have been overlooked in CAD. Additionally, the powerful battery required for refrigeration made it necessary to scale back other components. “We were able to make changes that I would estimate saved us at least a quarter of a million dollars in tooling,” said Gramm. Because of the two FDM prototypes, the team committed to production with confidence rather than hope.
- See more at: http://www.stratasys.com/resources/case-studies/consumer-goods/peppermint-energy#sthash.u3x8jih5.dpuf

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