As the race for sustainable energy charges on, developing nations often get lost in the shuffle. In Tanzania, over 30 million people lack energy, making up a whopping 75% of the country’s population. That’s precisely the issue that local startup Simusolar is trying to tackle.
Created in 2014, the company develops and implements localized, sustainable solutions for delivering solar energy to rural Tanzanians. Previous efforts have included developing solar-run LED lights for fishermen on Lake Victoria working at night, an efficient replacement for the oft-used petrol lights.
Now, Simusolar is excited to announce that they’ve officially entered 3D printing territory, with the start of a new partnership with French additive manufacturing company Sculpteo. The first-time collaboration will see Sculpteo 3D print specialized parts for Simusolar’s solar-charged solutions.
“Our clients are smallholder farmers, fishers and rural residents looking to improve their incomes through productive equipment powered by solar electricity,” explain Simusolar representatives. “Many of them have several sources of income because no single one can be scaled without capital. The lack of financial services and accessible energy are obstacles.”
Simusolar serves these communities with solar-powered technologies including water pumps, home lighting, small business equipment, and most recently, fishing lights to support the night fishing community on Lake Victoria in Tanzania, responsible for the largest protein source in the Lake Zone. Collectively, the Simusolar team boasts several decades of experience in solar energy and serving off-grid residents.
With the introduction of 3D printing technology into their production plan, Simusolar staff are hoping to push that experience even further. “We needed a custom-made small, complicated part made of an electrically insulating material to add to our circuit board installation,” say company reps. “We considered injection molding, but the tooling cost was too high. Since we only needed 100 parts for an alpha run, why not 3D print them?”
Initially turning to Tacklind Design, a Simusolar subcontractor, the team experimented with a semi-pro FDM printer in-house, with mixed results. Details of the prints had to be overly simplified, leading to redundancy and cost inefficiency. After discovering Sculpteo’s SLS system, however, the Simusolar team found they could take advantage of much higher 3D printing resolutions, leading to more robust parts at a fraction of the original cost. It’s now their go-to method for most projects, Simusolar staff report.
So far, the company couldn’t be happier with the results: “Thanks to 3D printing, we are able to rapidly innovate components for our products thanks to the speed of manufacture and the reasonable cost of small batch production.” The Simusolar-Sculpteo partnership can clearly look forward to a bright future ahead