3D Printing

The growth of 3D printing (3DP) has been rapid in the last decade, with the creation of low cost printers and the availability of easy to use software. The use of this technology is evident across many developed economies. However, there is now a real opportunity to use 3DP in developing economies and help to leapfrog highly capital intensive manufacturing.

This research investigates how 3DP technology can be integrated into the development sector and if it can help alleviate poverty. De Montfort University has partnered with Practical Action to carry out a pilot study with the office in Lima, Peru.

The  aim of the project is to see if 3DP can be used to enhance the design of existing solutions, and if products can be developed across multiple site offices. The study will continue by assessing if the possession of a 3D printer has enabled Practical Action to create new and innovative design ideas, previously not possible. The hope is that this will lead to a larger study exploring the potential of this technology.

The ultimate aim of the project is understand if local people will be able to use 3D printing to manufacture products or components, such as water filters or specialised parts. As one of the biggest challenges with current products designed is the distributed to the poor is access to spare parts.

Research Methodology

This study is being carried out by Dr Timothy Whitehead, who has delivered a desktop 3D Printer to Lima, Peru. Analysis of the effectiveness and use will be through interviews, a project journal and analysis of printed artefacts.

It is expected that project outcomes will be available in Summer 2016.


Scenarios of Use

This 3D Printing project seeks to understand the effectiveness of 3D Printing in the creation of lifesaving products for the poor. This section explores possible applications for the technology and will be the basis of further research.

Scenario 1: Enhanced Product Development

3D Printing has the potential to enhance current New Product Development process by enabling products to be designed in multiple site offices and tested in the field with users. If, for example, a new water filter was being designed in the United Kingdom parts could be electronically sent to a field office which could print them and test directly with users. The use of 3D printing also enables complex or specialist parts to be designed produced. Enhancing current practice.

Scenario 2: Embedded 3D Printers

In the longer term there is an opportunity to distribute 3D printers to remote villages, supplying training and materials. This would enable local communities to print products as they need and modify existing products to suit their requirements. These products could be new agriculture tools, specific medical tools (such as an umbilical cord clamp) or parts for a water pump and filter. The use of local 3D printing would mean that if products brake or required replacement parts, users would not resort to throwing them away but could print spares parts.

Project Pictures

A selection of images from a field trip to Lima, Peru to set up and and train Practical Action staff in 3D printing.