Ethical Filament | How 3D printers are boosting off-the-grid underdeveloped communities by DJ Panjburn
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How 3D printers are boosting off-the-grid underdeveloped communities by DJ Panjburn

13 Nov How 3D printers are boosting off-the-grid underdeveloped communities by DJ Panjburn

3D printing often has a starring role in the media from medical applications to new teaching tools and the ever present 3D printed gun. Unfortunately the potential benefit the technology offers to developing countries has been largely overlooked despite the efforts of a number of international start-ups, non-profits and community driven efforts to maximise local manufacturing opportunities by introducing 3D printing.

D J Panjburn’s recent article “How 3D printers are boosting off-the-grid underdeveloped communities” begins to fill in this gap, giving an excellent insight into the work being done in this field by academics, non-profits and businesses alike (look out for our own William Hoyle and the Ethical Filament Foundation!)

The variety of tools and necessities which can be individually manufactured by 3D printers is astounding and being added to everyday. Non-profit group Field Ready are working on creating birthing kits for 3D manufacture in Haiti where even the simplest equipment is hard to come by, while Michigan Tech’s Joshua Pearce’s has established a website offering designs from breast pumps to corn shellers for download on demand. As quoted in the article, for Pearce, the power of 3D printing lies in enabling communities to decide and manufacture for themselves.

From Haiti to Mexico, teams are working to realise the potential of 3D printing. Significant work still needs to be done to lower the cost of the tech and adapt it for the often hostile conditions. With problems from overpriced imported filament (currently a focus for Ethical Filament Foundation and Plastic Bank) to back up generators and awkward transport (tackled by Field Ready and ILab//Haiti)* simply dropping a 3D printer into a community in a developing country will not provide a miraculous solution.

Research, groundwork, training and trial and error are all needed by a global community of 3D printing enthusiasts and experts and this article showcases a number of these teams hard at work to solve these problems now.


*You can read more about the work of iLab//Haiti in Thomas Birtchnell and William Hoyle’s recently published book – 3D Printing for development in the Global South