SolarMill: Eco-Manufacturing in the USA

The SolarMill studio is a eco-tech wonderland of solar energy based creativity and concepts, and I was ~sunstruck~ by their work. They are a small design and manufacturing studio that is entirely solar-powered. Their mission is to effect a solar renaissance: to inspire others to harness the power of the sun to meet their own energy needs. In doing so, they are reducing carbon emissions by researching and developing radical new methods of mass production. They are passionate about designing high quality consumer products made in a responsible way.

On a hot afternoon in an industrial complex in Richmond VA, I navigate my way to a simple brown brick building with a large green garage door. The sun was up and out in full shine - perfect to power a couple quirky machines. I meet fellow Virginia Tech University alumni, Bert Green and Ashleigh Otto and was taken on a tour of the small but powerful design studio.

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The company was founded in 2011, by solar-entrepreneur Bert Green. As with any good startup I was first greeted by the company pooch Jackson, who kindly brought me a ball to toss. A few steps passed the front door you enter "the control room." Think Star Trek meets a DJ controller setup. This is the main computer room for the large CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machine that stands on the other side of the wall. The CNC is used to make the cutting boards featured in SolarMills' campaign along with other items. Check out this video on the digital shop:

Also on display during my visit was the SolarKart, a solar powered golf cart that 3D prints as you drive, and SkyFurnace, a mobile forge that tracks the sun using sensors and an Arduino (an open-source platform used for building electronics projects). During the tour, I got a ride around the complex while the 3D printer printed me the lampshade that now hangs in my greenhouse. See my ride:

They also printed me these adorable vessels, great for succulents and tea lights. The designs are capable of being disassembled and capable of being recycled. 

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What I love about SolarMill isn’t just their eco-friendly products or the fact that they use solar energy. I love the way they are redefining what it means to manufacture in America and how you can do it. They have a unique vision for making solar power reliable and accessible on a much smaller scale. Picture this: you as a DYI furniture manufacture could have a small production run produced in your backyard for half the cost of what it would take to get the tooling developed at a larger manufacturer. What you have to do: rethink the process of making your designs with solar. This mean managing your energy consumption based on input of solar energy and output of what your manufacturing requires. The good news is there is software being developed that will help you predict and manage your energy needs and consumption. With the help of Solarmill, we may all be able ideate, design, and manufacture more sustainably in the future!

Gabriella JacobsenComment