Additive manufacturing helps build a system that blends multiple solar technologies

by Leslie Langnau, makepartsfast.com

February 10, 2015

A debate is going on in the additive manufacturing and manufacturing world, with some proponents pushing for the elimination of traditional manufacturing methods (such as CNCs and injection molding) in favor of solely additive manufacturing. For Skyven Technologies, a Texas-based manufacturer of solar technologies, CNCs, injection molding and additive manufacturing are needed to develop its Skyven Cogen System that simultaneously produces energy for both electrical power and heated water.

he system integrates three technologies — traditional solar photovoltaic (PV), advanced concentrating photovoltaic (CPV) and solar water heating — into a single, multi-tasking solar panel. A network of panels can be installed on commercial and industrial rooftops, which then provides companies, hotels, factories and other large facilities access to more efficient electricity and water heating.

“The solar industry is growing tremendously,” said Skyven founder Arun Gupta, Ph.D. “It’s expanding by double digits every year, it is a nearly $15 billion industry in the U.S. alone, and it is the #2 source of new energy generation in the U.S. after natural gas.” Much of that is led by increased awareness paired with the steady decrease of silicon and solar panel costs.

The Skyven Cogen System requires traditional and additive manufacturing processes. For example, due to the precise nature of the panels’ mechanical drivetrains, 3D printed prototypes will be built using stereolithography (SL). Panel components will be CNC machined and injection molded as Skyven continues to develop the manufacturability of the system. Gupta and his team found one company that can provide all three process needs—Proto Labs, a leading online and technology-enabled quick-turn manufacturer.

Impressed with the innovative solar panel system, Proto Labs, Inc., presented its Cool Idea! award to Skyven Technologies.

“Skyven has leveraged existing solar technologies, which have been heavily researched and proven over the past few decades, to create a completely new model that builds on each technology’s strengths,” said Proto Labs founder, Larry Lukis. “The resulting product is one that brings higher levels of solar efficiencies to a market that is always looking to reduce its users’ carbon footprint.”

For his part, Gupta plans to use the Cool Idea! Award service grant on plastic and metal parts manufactured by all three of Proto Labs services, as his company works towards the completion of the pre-production version by mid-2015 with plans for a full-market launch in 2016.

Since 2011, the Cool Idea! Award has provided more than $750,000 in Proto Labs prototyping and low-volume production services to entrepreneurs developing new products in the United States and Europe. Unlike other product awards that recognize products after they’re in mass production and on store shelves, the Cool Idea! Award is meant to help innovative ideas come to life. For more information about the Cool Idea! Award and to apply, visit www.protolabs.com/coolidea.