3D Printing in Underserved Communities and Remote Areas: How Can We Help?

As 3D printing continues to advance and spread throughout the world, we’ve seen how the technology can be used to aid underserved people in remote areas or war-torn communities. With the ability to produce medical devices and life-saving tools at the click of a button, 3D printing is especially beneficial to areas that lack vital resources.

From 3D printing tools in a Gaza hospital to hand-delivering prosthetics for children in Africa, the examples of how 3D printing can save lives are endless. I think it’s safe to say that most people would happily provide assistance to those in need if given the opportunity. However, not all of us have the time or means to provide direct assistance to communities in need. How can the average 3D printer owner help less fortunate people suffering from war or lack of resources?

We talked to Naiomi Lundman of Humanitarian Makers, an organization dedicated to supporting locally-led design and production of hardware solutions to solve humanitarian challenges, about the state of 3D printing and how makers can provide aid to communities in need. Right off the bat, she explained that the organization is still exploring the different ways that 3D printing can be used for humanitarian causes.

"My take is that it is too early to know the "best way" and most likely there will be a number of good ways. We are all experimenting to understand the different dynamics at play that affect realizing the advantages of 3D printing (and other manufacturing methods) to enhance humanitarian response," Lundman explained.

Although organizations like Humanitarian Makers are still searching for the most effective ways to use 3D printing technology, there are a number of approaches one can take when providing aid to remote or war-torn areas. These methods include equipping and supporting hardware problem-solvers with the necessary resources, as well as supporting local maker integration with local responder infrastructure for rapid problem-solving.

"All three of these approaches offer perceived value in terms of appropriate, affordable, accessible and available items for humanitarian response. Testing helps to refine the prototypes and bring them closer to widely reliable designs that are feasible to reproduce or iterate from for a new context. Supporting hardware problem-solvers to produce excellence that is also valued by the market, enables sustainability, excellence and a return for those often closest to the problem but have little to no surplus volunteer time to solve it. And finally, integration of maker skills into local response - developed or developing country - creates a structured way to leverage those skills where and when they are needed most," Lundman said.

Lundman also explained how a normal maker like yourself can directly provide assistance to people in need. In fact, Humanitarian Makers is constantly looking for makers or 3D printer owners to help produce and test prototypes. By providing feedback, the organization is better able to optimize the documentation and printability of 3D models.

When it came to the question of how Lundman has seen the maker community come together for the betterment of mankind, the Humanitarian Makers curator had no shortage of examples to share.

"As you know, there are a number of initiatives that believe strongly in the maker community's benefit to humankind. There are great examples of this with Maker Faire who is creating making awareness and stimulating possibility around the world; with Makers Making Change which focuses on bringing makers and persons with disabilities together for co-creation of assistive devices; with Fab Labs who tie universities, makers and makerspaces together to push the envelope on what's possible; with 3D Heals, which is more at the medical practitioner and policy level and paving the way for 'making' to have a role in the healthcare setting; with Makers 4 Humanity, which brings together makers in Germany to co-work for humanitarian solutions, culture and concepts. And there are many more," she explained.

Lundman also talked about different material innovations and how recycling 3D printing filaments will also play a major role in the success of humanitarian efforts.

"One area that has interesting potential is using recycled material to produce filament. The input for a 3D printer is key - filament currently can be hard for people in some countries to access reliably. However, if local materials can be explored to work just as well (or even have unique attributes that work better), this will make the vision of people having what they need, where they need it, when they need it more attainable, in regards to 3D printing, Field Ready is one organization pushing the envelope on in-country filament production." she said.

If you want to utilize your maker skills and 3D printer for the good of mankind, you can visit the Humanitarian Makers website to find out how to get involved with testing out designs. The organization is currently looking for people to help with their testing approach, and is still working to integrate the other two approaches into its global platform.

Humanitarian Makers is "incubated" in Field Ready, a 501c3. The image was provided by Field Ready.