An Inside Look at the Many Ways 3D Printing is Used to Save and Improve Lives

All across the world, 3D printing technology is being used by doctors and community leaders to improve lives. Tarek Loubani, a Canadian doctor, is in charge of the Glia project located in the war-torn region of Gaza.

Glia Tools

His goal is to produce and provide medical supplies to this struggling population, creating surgical instruments with FDM 3D printing technology.

The doctor has designed a wide range of open-source 3D models that are either being mass manufactured, clinically tested, or are under development. This includes a stethoscope, tourniquet, oximeter, 3D printed surgical tools, otoscope, and electrocardiogram. In the near future, he’s also planning to develop dialysis tools. Loubani and his team have setup a small, yet effective operation in Gaza. According to the doctor, his office only gets about four hours of electricity per day, and so the workspace uses solar energy to run 10 different FDM 3D printers.

"If printers and some users are already available, then printing technology can be very useful. Printers are most useful in producing things that are completely unavailable (such as the case with Gaza) or things that are customized far away," Loubani explained to Filaments.directory.

There are plenty of examples of organizations that want to improve the lives of people in unfortunate situations. Humanitarian Makers, which is a humanitarian relief collective comprised of makers, designers, engineers, and others, leverage their expertise to develop hardware solutions to solve challenges. From power supply setups to medical instruments, the organization focuses on a wide range of critical needs.

"While in South Sudan, our team worked with a local NGO that drills wells in rural parts of the country. The parts often break, and the closest replacement part would need to be retrieved from over 800 miles away in Kampala. Our team was able to 3D print the replacement parts powering the printer off of a car. These replacements were printed and altered to be more durable and because of this timely response drilling was able to continue," Naiomi Lundman, Curator of Humanitarian Makers, told us.

"With this modern technology and remote support, we are able to get people the supplies they need even in the harshest conditions," she adds.

One the the leading members of Humanitarian Makers is Field Ready, an organization that has printed hundreds of relief and reconstruction items using 3D printing and other technologies. It primarily operates in countries struggling from natural disaster, such as Haiti, Nepal, and Syria.

"In Nepal, Field Ready has prototyped items and has equipped rural health posts with 3D printed medical supplies. Printing these parts ensures that there are enough items to supply local hospital staff's immediate needs and that people have access to new medical supplies," Lundman explains.

"One of the most impressive items we have made is a wrist brace. On an assessment in a rural part of Nepal, many people had not seen a doctor in years and struggled with arthritis. On the assessment we were able to rapidly make a thermoformable wrist brace making it more customizable."

This organization utilizes 3D printing technology to produce useful items that serve to solve local problems in the sectors of health, water, and sanitation. For communities that have been decimated by war, Field Ready aims to get them back on their feet not only by offering 3D printed items, but also through education.

"3D printing largely enables experimentation and prototyping for custom and acute supply needs and helps us get people what they need faster, better and cheaper. In the aftermath of disasters, rural areas are cut off from receiving lifesaving equipment and 3D printing allows for us to locally manufacture the items needed. We are able to alter the parts for customization based on the needs of the communities we serve. Through our ability to locally manufacture items we are fulling a critical supply chain gap," Lundman adds.

In fact, 3D printing technology has proven to benefit those in any type of remote region, whether the call to action be disaster or innovation. The latter is especially true in the confines of orbit, as NASA has experimented with 3D printing tools inside of the International Space Station. There are also a number of advantages to having 3D printing systems onboard ships or in the midst of a battlefield.

All in all, the ever-growing capabilities of 3D printing technology help make people in remote areas more self-reliant and able to access vital solutions at the push of a button. Whether it be for humanitarian efforts or agricultural advancement, additive manufacturing has proven to be a viable solution to some of the world’s most glaring problems.