Withstand Extreme Conditions With 3D Printed Smart Solar Charger FROST SUMMITS
Photo courtesy of Box Synergy
When you’re 6,000 feet above the ground, having a dead GPS or phone can induce great panic--it’s far from an ideal situation. How will you navigate your way back? How will you reach an emergency contact should something disastrous happen? Outdoor expeditions are not for the faint of heart. Camping in extreme conditions, exploring scorching deserts, scaling snow-covered mountains, and immersing yourself in the wilderness require intense preparation, even for the experienced. Before embarking on such extreme activities, people pack food, water, a first aid kit, a repair kit, an emergency shelter, a GPS, and a mobile device. Digital tools make outdoor expeditions safer and more enjoyable than ever.
Of course, these digital devices run out of battery and die, which is why it is prudent to pack portable, wireless chargers. However, many portable chargers available today drain quickly and are not built for extreme conditions. Box Synergy’s new product prototyped with Formlabs printers, FROST SUMMITS, can alleviate those concerns. According to their Indiegogo campaign:
“FROST SUMMITS is the world’s first IoT smart solar charger and pocket-sized power bank pack made especially for those who reach for extreme experiences. The charger and power bank operate in places where other products simply do not work, in temperatures as low as -58°F. With FROST SUMMITS in your backpack, you have a light-weight power supply that uses renewable resources to ensure all your devices stay charged.”
Through Formlabs Argentina-based authorized reseller Hornero 3DX, Box Synergy was able to prototype and design FROST SUMMITS using 3D printing, testing different Formlabs resins before settling on Tough Resin.
How Formlabs’ Partner Hornero 3DX Helped Box Synergy
Photo courtesy of Box Synergy
Hornero 3DX is an additive manufacturing company in Argentina that offers 3D printers and tech support throughout the country. They also provide 3D printing services, training, design, and scanning. Partnerships with Formlabs, Ultimaker, and Zortrax enable Hornero 3DX to have the best-in-class 3D printing solution available in Argentina. One of their clients, startup Box Synergy, was founded in 2016. According to Gustavo Becker, cofounder and CTO of Box Synergy, the company started as a thesis for the industrial design program at the Universidad Nacional de Córdoba. While their initial focus was providing services like energy and water for isolated environments, such as rural schools, the company eventually shifted to making more consumer-facing products like solar chargers.
“Our first client was the government of the nation, which selected us as an official gift product for the G20 Summit. And then we made a crowdfunding campaign in Ideame, which is similar to Indiegogo but for Latin America,” said Becker. “After a year of this experience in 2019, we decided to do a market analysis for trekking, trailrunner, mountaineering, and climbing products. We identified that the US and Europe were the largest markets which led us to start a global campaign through a crowdfunding platform. Our goal is to launch one new product per year.”
The founders all appreciate the great outdoors, living close to Sierras de Córdoba--between the three founders, they have experience trekking, climbing, and biking. Their passion for outdoor sports shaped the focus of the company. They embraced 3D printing in 2018 to make the production process more efficient--the alternative would’ve been to create models using many different techniques, a very manual process involving painting, plastering, and sanding wood. Prior to 3D printing, they incorporated manufacturing methods like thermoforming, welding metals, and CNC machining. “With 3D printing, in one or two days we can make our product housings, while with materials, glue, a lot of sandpaper, and post-processing, maybe we could get them in a month,” Becker said.
Making the Switch to SLA 3D Printing
Box Synergy started with Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) 3D printing before being introduced to Stereolithography (SLA). They sought out Hornero 3DX to look for a SLA 3D printing provider that would deliver high quality parts with dimensional accuracy. According to Becker, there are strengths and challenges for both FFF and SLA 3D printing. FFF was able to hold the parts’ shape but didn’t provide the desired surface finish, while SLA provided great surface finish but previous experiences showed deformations and bending from the original shape.
Damian Garayalde, of Hornero 3DX, said that Box Synergy searched for materials that could emulate the final product. “I have the charger now. What happens if I throw it to the floor, what happens if I knock it on the side? Does it withstand the use or not? That was another key objective of the SLA prints,” Garayalde said.
Becker added that in developing FROST SUMMITS, they looked for resistance and hardness for their ideal material. “We found technical specifications of the materials that could be printed and that we could obtain a resistance similar to those products that are commercially seen in the industry. Which in our case was solved with Tough Resin...we were quite satisfied because we were able to validate the resistance of the model and that it could absorb shocks properly,” Becker said. “It (SLA 3D printing) will surely be the technology of choice for our future projects.”
Prototyping With Formlabs Resins
The product FROST SUMMITS is composed of two parts: a solar panel and a battery pack (that resembles a phone). Both parts have electronic components and batteries that must be encased and prepared to withstand the harsh use and climate conditions. These casings are made up of two housing shells joined by a frame/o ring part to seal the product from water damage that projects outward as a bumper. The team used different materials for different parts, such as Tough Resin for the shells and Durable and Flexible Resin to prototipe the o ring. “We were looking for a rubber-like part...an o-ring that is the interface between the housings to be molded and sealed but also a kind of removable cover for the plugs and cable connector and a shock absorbent material,” Becker said. The wide range of Formlabs Resins enabled the team to use what works best.
Ultimately, Box Synergy found great value in having a physical model for their product. Without access to 3D printing, Becker said that their Indiegogo campaign would have only featured renders. “It would have been totally based on renders since we could not have taken photos and filmed the physical object. Using renders is not so bad because the animations turn out very well but people need credibility, to see the product, to see that it exists physically, that you have the ability to provide and that you can produce it,” he said.
3D printing was able to help them make decisions about sizing, according to Becker. “We can see millimeter size considerations. We are already in a stage of DFM (Design for Manufacturing) which is a fine detail stage of manufacturing where you analyze mold release angles, location of the injection turrets, etcetera. Printing is very useful for us to corroborate these measures,” he said. “It was also useful to produce the product logo with the transparencies and the performance with LEDs for battery status indicators.”
Of course, there were challenges going from a design to the final product. Box Synergy had to work with batteries for the first time, making design analysis more complex--they’ve previously had experience with solar cells. For injection molding, they outsourced to a manufacturer in China. “In order to identify and show the little spaces that are generated in the joints between the pieces, it is important that we show the future manufacturer [the product] through a video what we don’t want to happen and they can recommend changes to avoid this from happening from the tooling side,” Becker said.
What’s Next for FROST SUMMITS
The FROST SUMMITS Indiegogo campaign continues to raise money while Box Synergy begins production of the product. They have a goal to ship the product in November this year. With an ambitious goal to launch one product per year, Becker said he sees great potential for 3D printing in product design and manufacturing.
“In the future, we believe that many of the products that are not aimed for mass consumption will be produced by additive manufacturing in a distributed manner. We also think the growth of this technology and its use depends both on the appearance of new, mass consumption, applications, on the development of the manufacturing ecosystem and its seamless and normalized integration with other processes and devices.”