In fact, LightManufacturing, LLC, has redefined the molding industry. We’ve all heard of solar power as a mode of producing electricity, but LightManufacturing is the first to apply the sun’s thermal power to plastics.
LightManufacturing systems use state-of-the-art Solar Rotational Molding (SRM™) technology to replace costly and inefficient traditional rotational molding methods. By applying concentrated solar thermal energy and simple, low-cost manufacturing machinery, LightManufacturing avoids the expense of factories and utilities.
1. Why Solar Rotational Molding?
Rotational molding is the most common method used today for manufacturing long-lasting goods such as agricultural and industrial water tanks, boats, road barriers, and kayaks. Plastic powder is placed into a hollow metal mold, which is heated in a big oven while being turned. Once melted under the inside of the mold, it is then cooled and ejected from the mold. And the process begins again.
The issue with traditional rotational molding is that it uses fossil fuels like natural gas and kerosene and produces a significant amount of emissions- 2 billion pounds- every year in a very inefficient process; most heat is actually lost through the chimney.
Frustrated with this wasteful technique, LightManufacturing CEO Karl Von Kries sought an eco-conscious alternative. He decided to apply solar thermal technology (similarly employed in rooftop solar hot water systems) to rotational molding. The end result became solar thermal rotational molding.
Solar Rotational Molding is as simple as looks. The process basically uses large computer-controlled mirrors, known as heliostats, to reflect the sun’s high-energy beams to the molds, which are rotated on fixed position armatures. The heliostats adjust with the sun throughout the day.
2. Efficient, Affordable, Versatile, and Just Plain Awesome
Solar Rotational Molding uses no outside electricity at all, and is much more efficient than traditional solar energy sources. As Von Kries notes, “Solar thermal is the most impacting way to apply solar.” While traditional solar power operates at 20 percent efficiency, solar rotational molding systems operate at 75 percent efficiency, setting an unmatched industry standard.
Even better, the machinery does not demand the capital investment typically associated with solar power (they are 75 percent cheaper than traditional rotational molding systems), and manufacturers can easily set them up just about anywhere. No building is required. This means that transportation costs are essentially slashed.
Plus, they are adaptable. Von Kries notes: “Traditional molds can actually be plugged into our machines. Simply apply the solar black paint, and you can mold parts in our systems.” Thus, this product could almost instantly change the market.
3. Revolutionary Sustainable Design for the Global Market
The most revolutionary part of their solar thermal systems is their heliostats. Instead of using glass to reflect the sun, these heliostats use a stretched, metalized plastic film. Not only does this make for a higher quality product, it is cheaper to produce and replace than glass, and it doesn’t shatter. One can only imagine the amount of stress this would relieve from the buyer.
In the global perspective, solar thermal production seems to have incredible potential. With low labor costs in developing countries, “materials and energy become a bigger piece of the pie,” Von Kries argues, and with these costs significantly reduced, solar thermal seems to be the obvious solution.
The best part is that these systems are viable at about 49 percent of the world’s land area. This means that virtually any country can utilize this technology, from developed nations like the US and Australia to emerging markets like India, Africa, and beyond.
You may be asking yourself: How is this sustainable if it’s producing plastic?
Well, the beauty of these systems lies in their ability to melt almost any type of plastic. In addition to petrochemical plastics, they can actually use recycled, post-consumer plastics and bioplastics. And the emissions linked with transportation are decimated.
4. The Future Looks Bright
So what is the future of solar thermal? Is this technology transferable? Von Kries is taking things one step at a time, but is already of the game: “We’re looking into injection molding and other processes that would have immediate cost savings and huge reductions in emissions.”
LightManufacturing sets a fine example for the field of green manufacturing. By melting away all the stereotypes associated with green energy, they have produced something that is truly easy and accessible for manufacturers throughout the world.