Mar. 15, 2015 | By Alec

While we might not think about it too often in the west, food shortages are still very serious problems throughout developing countries. While scarcity, droughts and other issues are part of the problem, waste is also hugely problematic. While we through away far too much food every year, waste has an entirely different meaning in Africa and other developing countries. There, thousands of tons of vegetables and fruits are destroyed per year simply because they cannot be adequately stored in their warm and humid climates. Decay sets in within a few days, long before farmers have had a chance to sell it all or eat it themselves. According to the UN, a massive 45% of fruits and vegetables are wasted before they even reach the local market.

What, you might ask, does this have to do with 3D printing? Well, the Belgian product developer Arne Pauwels has come up with an ingenious 3D printed solution to save time money, time and food for third-world farmers. It’s called the Wakati One, which is essentially a tent that –through a few 3D printed parts and a solar panel – can keep food fresh for a long time. If efficiently used, up to 200 kg of produce can be stored in it. And what’s more, its far cheaper than refrigeration technology and only uses a fraction of the energy necessary for a fridge.

As Arne explained on his website, he has been fascinated by Africa throughout his life thanks to a niece who worked their for some time. When given the opportunity to go to Ethiopia while studying product development in Belgium, Arne first became inspired to help local farmers. ‘The first step in the development of Wakati was a field trip to Ethiopia for identifying opportunities with local entrepreneur Yordanos Kidanie, alumni of the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program in The White House, hosted by Hilary Clinton. During my stay it became clear that the post-harvest losses were huge in Africa and there were no cheap solutions available,’ he writes. ‘Based on this research, Wakati emerged to increase the productivity of smallholder farmers instead of focusing on their production.’

While we in the west are obsessed with keeping things refrigerated, Pauwels found out during his studies in Antwerp that temperature isn’t the crucial factor in keeping perishables fresh; hydration is. Cooling simply slows down the evaporation process (which is very fast in hot climates), but putting produce in humid environments essentially has the same effect. And his Wakti proves it. This low-cost tent is essentially a sterilized and humid micro climate of its own thanks to an ventilator and an evaporative cooling system, all of which is powered by a three-watt solar panel. With a relative humity of 99%, produce stays fresh for twice as long, enabling farmers to increase their profits and to increase the availability of food in developing countries.

But to make these tents as cost-effective as possible, Arne turned to 3D printing. Not only has it made prototyping affordable and easy, it has also keeps the eventual price tags acceptable for farmers. His final marketable prototype has been developed in collaboration with Belgian 3D printing providers Materialise, who played a crucial role in making molds for the blowers using stereolithography technology. Participating in Materialise’s Summer School program in Benin, Arne was also able to test the machine in Africa, where it was reportedly a big hit.

The Wakati One 3D printed humidifying tent, in short, looks like a perfect solution to very basic problems that are common throughout the developing world, and could raise the quality of life for millions of people everywhere. Testing will continue throughout the coming months with the help of Materialise, who is financing a market study with a dozen tents. It looks like 3D printing is doing its part to end world hunger.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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