While we often see the greatest technological innovations of this era being created in urban cities and places like Silicon Valley, many of these recent developments offer various advantages to remote regions throughout the world. For instance, in populations that live under the plight of war, natural catastrophe, or just a general lack of accessibility to healthcare, 3D printing technology is proving to be an extremely useful tool that allows these communities to be more self-reliant.

In this two-part article, we’ll take an in-depth look at what 3D printing can offer to these underserved areas, how it has already been used to improve and even save lives, as well as who is using the technology to make the world a better place.

Part 1: How 3D Printing is Used to Improve Livelihood in Remote and Underserved Communities

When used in remote areas, especially in those dealing with humanitarian disaster, it’s vital that the 3D printing technology used is inexpensive, mobile, and of course, reliable. The two most affordable and useful types of additive manufacturing are fused deposition modeling (FDM) and, to some extent, stereolithography (SLA). Both technologies offer their own unique benefits, however, it’s important to note that FDM technology is, in most cases, the preferable option.

There are a number of reasons why FDM 3D printing is the most lucrative option for organizations and companies operating in remote locations. For starters, getting ahold of a desktop-sized printer and materials for a low cost. 3D printing filaments are also easy to source with just a few tools, namely a plastic shredder and extruder.

On top of that, these machines are usually robust and easy to repair and operate. Not only does this enable people to use 3D printing to help provide aid during a humanitarian crisis, but underserved children can also be educated on how to use the technology on their own.

There are also a couple of downsides to FDM technology, for instance, the general high electrical consumption and slow production speed. These are two areas where SLA is definitely superior, but there are arguably more drawbacks when compared to FDM. Disadvantages include the high cost for both the printer and resin material, the overall fragility of the printer, and the difficulty remote areas would have in sourcing materials. Of course, there are a variety of other additive manufacturing technologies out there, but these are usually extremely expensive and hard to operate.

At this point, you might be wondering what humanitarian workers, medical professionals, and others who reside in remote areas are using 3D printing technology. There are a number of projects, both short term and long term, that have emerged as the technology has grown more popular, affordable, and accessible.

3D printing can be used to help satisfy needs in underserved communities that don’t have access to vital things like clean water and proper healthcare. There have been studies conducted that prove the validity of using 3D printing to produce surgical instruments and other medical devices.

In a research paper entitled “3D Printed Surgical Instruments: The Design and Fabrication Process”, researchers concluded that 3D printing offers a number of benefits, including “no increase in cost for increased complexity, accelerated design to production times and surgeon specific modifications.”

3D printed water filter

There have also been many instances where 3D printing is used to create water filters and water collection systems.

Outside of the necessities, there are many other ways that 3D printing is being used to improve the livelihood in remote and impoverished regions. In the short term, people can produce replacement parts for broken systems, basic medical and agricultural tools, or even toys to help comfort children. There are also long term uses of 3D printing technology, including imperative items like prosthetics, frames for glasses, among other personalized items.

The header picture was provided by Field Ready.