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ADVANCING SOLAR TECHNOLOGY WITH THE HELP OF 3D PRINTING

California-based startup Solarytics uses the MakerBot METHOD platform to create optimized testing rigs for its cutting-edge solar panel technology

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Solarlytics is on a mission to take the solar power industry to new levels by advancing solar cell efficiency.

Solarlytics is a 5-year-old startup in Livermore, California that specializes in improving the output of existing in-place solar panels. The company is developing a new technology that provides a significant uplift in solar energy output from existing solar panel infrastructure. It is working toward developing a product for the market and is currently engaged in research, testing, and product engineering.

Solarlytics engineers are able to quickly model test rig-components like this wheel bracket using Solidworks.
Solarlytics engineers are able to quickly model test rig-components like this wheel bracket using Solidworks.
SOLAR PANEL WHEEL CLAMP ASSEMBLY

CAD to Part Time      48 hrs
Part Cost                    $83
Size                             12cm x 10cm x 10cm
Printed on                   METHOD X
Model Material           MakerBot ASA
Support Material        MakerBot SR-30

THE CHALLENGE OF DEVELOPING COMPLEX TEST RIGS FOR SOLAR

The process of loading oddly-shaped and heavy (80+lbs) solar panels onto a testing rig is both awkward and labor-intensive. Previously, this process required multiple personnel and lots of space for testing to take place. There was also the risk of damaging and scratching the solar panel by dragging it to and from the flash test machine.

Co-founder Doug Raymond and his team started out with cheaper desktop 3D printers, but quickly found the trial and error of calibration and reprinting to be extremely time-intensive and frustrating. Complex assemblies with tight tolerances were nearly impossible to print. The alternative of outsourcing for the part could cost up to $10,000, a price that would not allow for multiple iterations.

An early version of the 3D printed wheel clamp assembly showcased a print-in-place hinge with additional parts attached with metal fixtures.
An early version of the 3D printed wheel clamp assembly showcased a print-in-place hinge with additional parts attached with metal fixtures.
Version 4 of the wheel clamp assembly called for further removal of material enabled by Stratasys SR-30 dissolvable supports.
Version 4 of the wheel clamp assembly called for further removal of material enabled by Stratasys SR-30 dissolvable supports.

ITERATIVE DESIGN WITH 3D PRINTING

In early 2019, the team invested in a MakerBot METHOD 3D printer based on its ability to print complex geometries with dissolvable support material.

Says Doug Raymond, engineer and co-founder of Solarlytics, “The beauty of the METHOD is [that] you start the print at the end of Friday and when you’re back in the office [on Monday], it’s completely printed. The METHOD is a step above other 3D printers we’ve used.”

After their initial success with METHOD, Doug’s team invested in a second printer, this time opting for the METHOD X Manufacturing Workstation, which had the ability to print higher-temp materials such as ABS and, more interestingly, ASA – a UV-resistant form of ABS. Using the METHOD, Solarlytics’ engineers can create the drawing in the CAD system, send it to the printer, and execute a perfect print in one round, instead of three or four attempts.

Outsourced Machining METHOD in-house
Total Cost $10,000 $83
Total Time 20 days 2 day

SOLAR PANEL WHEEL CLAMP ASSEMBLY

The wheel clamp assembly Solarlytics engineers designed and manufactured on METHOD allows a single person to roll the solar panel onto the flash test machine, easily position it, and perform testing. It prevents having to drag and possibly scratch or damage the solar panel and requires much less space, protecting the equipment and the system.

The ability to print with Stratasys® SR-30 soluble supports allowed Solarlytics engineers to design the wheel clamp assembly as one complex part, which would have been impossible to machine because of its internal bearings and pivot point. 

Solarytics uses MakerBot METHOD and METHOD X to maximize solar panel efficiency.
Solarytics uses MakerBot METHOD and METHOD X to maximize solar panel efficiency.

Learn more about MakerBot METHOD at www.makerbot.com/method.

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