David Papp Blog

Solar Sinter – 3D Printing in the Sun

Find yourself stuck in the desert and in need of a bowl, a hat, robotic arm, or maybe an art deco sculpture for the living room?

Markus Kayser may have the answer. He’s created a solar powered 3D printer you can use anywhere you can find sunlight. The “Solar Sinter” – a machine inspired by 3D laser printing – uses silica-rich sand instead of a polymer. The sun’s rays are used instead of a laser to melt sand and mold it into glass patterns.

It’s called Selective Laser Sintering – or SLS for short. It refers to the heating of powdered substance into liquid form.


Tested in the African Desert

The manually operated machine was tested in the Egyptian dessert for 2 weeks in 2011. After producing an assortment of glass bowls, it received the Ars Electronica award of distinction in 2012.

It’s larger than the original Sun Cutter. The earlier model used the sun’s concentrated rays to cut sheets of plywood and paper into assorted shapes.

The large framework looks about the size of a golf cart. Photovoltaic panels on each side power a large battery. A sun tracker and powerful Fresnel lens are positioned on top.

Markus takes his office with him. The mini-tent made from propped-up reflective material sits next to the machine.

The Sinter operates with simple rotational movements. Markus spreads desert sand into a pan located in the middle of the machine. Concentrated sunlight melts the sand into a pre-programmed pattern. In the end, the glowing melted liquid cools and emerges from the tray as a perfect bowl.

Exploring the Future of Design

The product designer from Hannover, Germany, has worked within the Mediated Matter group at MIT’s school of architecture and planning. The group explores the relationships between humans, materials and design. It crosses barriers and blurs categories. Explorations range from the practical to the artistic and fantastic.

Projects include exploring both 3D printing of large-scale buildings and 3-D printing using and producing actual biological materials. Another project features a specialized glove designed to protect against carpal tunnel syndrome. The covering puts the ideal amount of pressure at each location of the hand and wrist.

The polymer version is still forthcoming … so for now, users will have to make room for that new glass centerpiece.