Access to solar power is increasing, albeit slowly and at a steep price. A Florida company called SkyShades is selling shade umbrellas equipped with flexible solar panels that slip into the canopies. There’re being sold to coffee shops as well as leisure resorts that want more battery-charging capability poolside. “My friends who go to places like Starbucks have said there has been insufficient access to outlets,” Joe McKenna, executive vice president of SkyShades said in a recent interview with me. They’re pricey - at $10,000. But the regular price for these canopies is $5,200. “They seem expensive. However for SkyShades to build a PVC structure it would cost $75-$80 per sq ft and these work out to about $31 per sq ft.” adds McKenna. Another new consumer item is a handbag with integrated solar panels. Price: $472. This is pretty much in the realm of the Tesla electric cars that sell for more than $100,000. You can buy these products, but for a while real solar-powered stuff is pretty much a toy for the eco-rich. Check my feature in the April issue of Design News for the amazing plastics technology that provides power for the flexible solar panels.
How 3D printing fits into the digital thread, and the relationship between its uses for prototyping and for manufacturing, was the subject of a talk by Proto Labs' Rich Baker at last week's Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis.
How can automakers, aerospace contractors, and other OEMs get new metal alloys that are stronger, harder, and can survive ever higher temperatures? One way is to redesign their crystalline structures at the nanoscale and microscale.
Although a lot of the excitement about 3D printing and additive manufacturing surrounds its ability to make end-products and functional prototypes, some often ignored applications are the big improvements that can come by using it for tooling, jigs, and fixtures.
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