It’s the Summer. It’s an extremely hot day here in London, the hottest day of 2011, in fact. So it’s with just the tiniest stretch of the imagination that I could be right there in the desert watching Markus Kayser at work on his next great experiment.
He’s built his own solar-powered 3D printer out of a large panel of magnifying glass and a computer-guided motorised panel, the raw material being the desert’s primary natural resource: sand.
With his design, he is able to create a focused laser beam that melts sand, so that it cools and hardens in a design of his choosing. In effect, he is ‘growing’ his designs right out of the sand. It’s really, really impressive:
Markus describes the process on the project’s website:
Silicia sand when heated to melting point and allowed to cool 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).
These 3D printers use laser technology to create very precise 3D objects from a variety of powdered plastics, resins and metals – the objects being the exact physical counterparts of the computer-drawn 3D designs inputted by the designer.
By using the sun’s rays instead of a laser and sand instead of resins, I 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.
Sintering is a natural process, commonly occuring products being Fulgurites, which are glass tubes that form deep in the sand when lightning strikes in the desert. Each have a unique quality: colour; shape; consistency and location, which together with their ‘atmospheric origins’ they’ve become quite collectible artefacts.
My take is that Markus’s device will allow command over the sun to grow one’s own kind of ‘artisanal fulgurites’, quite a powerful idea, and undoubtedly a great use of technology that harnesses our most abundant natural resources in a really cool way. Nice one!