02 Jul Filament in Central and South America
In August Protoprint hope to begin distribution of the first spools of filament produced in Pune for independent testing and EFF certification. This is a fundamental step in the development of the Ethical Filament Foundation concept, an initial phase we are proud to be involved in and excited to see the results. However, our goal is not just production of filament in India, but to establish an international network of social businesses producing filament, both for use in the local communities where they are established and for sale to a wider market.
To that end, Matt Rogge, who was part of the 2012 3D4D Challenge winning team, has been working with us to establish new initiatives for ethical filament production, in conjunction with partners in Oaxaca, Mexico and Bogota, Columbia.
In Mexico, we are collaborating with the local FabLab, who in turn are working with a community recycling initiative in Ixtlan, a village outside Oaxaca. The community already have an integral recycling system with receptacles set up to separate plastic, glass and food waste and while it is not always economically viable to sell the recycling collected, the possibility exists for several communities to supply enough plastic waste to make ethical filament production a viable opportunity. Many of the men who live in cities and villages around Oaxaca have been forced to leave to look for work in the States which makes finding people able to process the recycling trickier. However, the FabLab team has been in touch with community leaders to pitch them the idea and the interest to adapt the project to the needs of the community is definitely there. The FabLab Oaxaca have been working hard and are already well underway to ensure that extruders and printers will function well with recycled plastic.
In Bogota, we are working with a team at Bogohack, a hackerspace that already provides 3D printing services in the city. Equipment has been installed on site and the local team have not only been trained to use and repair it, but are already making refinements to the equipment! This project is a real collaboration, exactly in the spirit of the open source community, 3D printing and social enterprises, and has so far demonstrated that the initiative which began in Pune India can be adapted to fit into the communities Matt has worked with in Mexico and South America.
At present, there are some kinks that still need to be ironed (or extruded) out! Access to continual power has not been a problem with a reliable and plentiful supply (dramatic lightning storms only requiring a brief pause for safety). The best and most commercially viable filament is produced at .05 mm thickness and so far, the closest reached has been 45 minutes of continual production at .06mm. This may not sound like the worst difference, but most 3D printers require a precise regulation of filament width to produce the best designs, otherwise problems can arise later. The team are working hard to correct this and ensure commercially viable filament can be reliably produced.
Most failures that occur when technology is used to aid development are due to lack of training, lack of parts and an inability to replace anything that breaks or fails to work. As the teams in Oaxaca and Bogota are instrumental in creating and setting up the equipment that will form the basis of the filament producing micro businesses, they will know exactly how to repair and sort any problems that occur and there is an excellent culture of training in 3d printing and disruptive technologies which is growing across Mexico and South America. The team in Oaxaca have already used e-waste to build computers which they have been supplying to schools and with Matt’s help are working on a similar initiative to use e-waste to construct 3D printers for distribution. As their knowledge and experiments develop, the Fab Lab’s team would like to begin working with teachers in primary and secondary school to integrate visual programming language into part of the standard curriculum, teaching kids how to use printers and design software as they grow, to make the technology an integral part of their education and lives.