Amongst the wonderful collection of work currently on show at the Royal College of Art, in the corner on the first floor sits an installation/object by Markus Kayser called Solar Sinter. An MA Design Products student project, Solar Sinter is probably one of the most inspiring projects this year, aiming to raise questions about the future of manufacturing and triggers dreams of the full utilisation of the production potential of the world’s most efficient energy resource - the sun.
In a world increasingly concerned with questions of energy production and raw material shortages, this project explores the potential of desert manufacturing, where energy and material occur in abundance. In this experiment sunlight and sand are used as raw energy and material to produce glass objects using a 3D printing process, that combines natural energy and material with high-tech production technology.
In August 2010 Markus Kayser took his first solar machine – the Sun-Cutter (see video below) – to the Egyptian desert in a suitcase. This was a solar-powered, semi-automated low-tech laser cutter, that used the power of the sun to drive it and directly harnessed its rays through a glass ball lens to ‘laser’ cut 2D components using a cam-guided system. In the deserts of the world two elements dominate – sun and sand. The sun offers the energy and sand an unlimited supply of silica in the form of quartz. When silicia sand is heated to melting point, once cooled solidifies as glass. This process of converting a powdery substance via a heating process into a solid form is known as sintering and has in recent years become a central process in design prototyping known as 3D printing or SLS (selective laser sintering). By using the sun’s rays instead of a laser and sand instead of resins used in modern 3D printers, Markus had the basis of an entirely new solar-powered machine and production process for making glass objects that taps into the abundant supplies of sun and sand to be found in the deserts of the world.
The Solar-Sinter was completed in mid-May and later that month Markus took this experimental machine to the Sahara desert near Siwa, Egypt, for a two week testing period. The machine and the results shown here represent the initial significant steps towards what Markus envisages as a new solar-powered production tool of great potential.
The Solar-Sinster uses ReplicatorG software, an open source 3D printing program. For more information, see replicat.org.
The project is currently on show at the Royal College of Art graduate exhibition and I agree “a ‘must-see’ event for anyone interested in twenty-first century art and design”.
24 June to 3 July 2011.
Royal College of Art
Kensington Gore, London SW7 2EU
(Thanks to Steffen for pointing it out)