Nov 17, 2015 | By Kira

3D printing is quickly becoming a global phenomenon, thanks in large part to open source hardware and software, which enable even those regions seen as resource-poor to freely access the information they need to create functional 3D printing machines and materials. However even with these advances, many developing countries still lack basic access to technology, which can be harmful to their economic development as a whole. One such country is Nicaragua, where the kinds of materials taken for granted in the US are extremely difficult to obtain, slowing the nation’s progress in terms of digital manufacturing at all levels, and particularly for the individual workers and families who could stand to benefit the most. 3D printed tools, repair parts, or even prosthetics could improve people’s work, economic or medical situations—but only if they have access to design and create them themselves.

In order to make that a reality and bring open source 3D printing to Nicaragua, Eric Freisen teamed up with Dr. Joshua Pearce—a well-known 3D printing crusader and associate professor at Michigan Tech’s Department of Material Science and Engineering and Electrical and Computer Engineering—and Michigan Tech undergraduate research fellow Jill Poliskey, to design and build a 3D printer to bring to Nicaragua.

However, in order to get the most out of it and truly benefit the Nicaraguan people, it would need to bypass customs restrictions on imports of filaments and 3D printers. Their solution was to design a RepRap 3D printer that could not only self-replicate, but also use alternative materials, such as local recyclable waste, as its filament. “We want a scalable model of distributed manufacturing for Nicaragua that includes free computer-aided design (CAD) files of all the equipment, accessible supplies and will require limited training,” said Pearce.

Eric Friesen, left, works on the RepRap 3D printer

In fact, regular readers will remember Pearce for his diligent work in promoting the open source movement. He recently published two separate articles that argue, respectively, that open source 3D printing is hugely beneficial to the science community, and can offer serious economic benefits to farmers in developing countries.  Most recently, he’s set his sights on stopping patent trolls by developing an ‘algorithm for obviousness’ that would ensure free and open innovation in 3D printing materials can and will continue.

Friesen, who had the idea to bring 3D printing to Nicaragua in the first place, is also heavily involved in open source 3D printing for the benefit of communities. He is part of Enabling the Future (e-NABLE), a global network of passionate volunteers that design and deliver free 3D printed ‘helping hand’ prosthetics to children and adults in need. A self-described ‘citizen of the streets’, Friesen was in Nicaragua when he noticed how many children didn’t have access to assistive devices. “Nicaragua has a crying need for many things and you see some kids on the street that could use a hand and it just seems like the logical thing to follow,” he said. He apparently wrote Michigan Tech’s Pearce a letter explaining the dire situation, and his plan to help.

With guidance from Pearce, Friesen and Poliskey spent two days building a testing a Michigan Tech RepRap 3D printer with special RecycleBot modifications that would allow it to print with weed wacker line and other materials easily accessible in Nicaragua. Funding for the project was provided through the Portage Health Foundation.

“He has one of the first 3-D printers in Nicaragua and they were having a really hard time getting a filament. So, we make these devices called Recyclebots that turn waste plastic into filament and that’s a solution for being able to provide 3-D printing filament in places in the developing world where it’s simply not commercially available,” explained Pearce. “This technology can be used to help adults who need prosthetics and need to work for a living,” said Friesen. “It can be life-changing around the world.”

Dr. Joshua Pearce

With the help of some kind TSA agents, Friesen was able to take the RepRap 3D printer with him to Nicaragua, where it is already set up and primarily creating open source medical hardware such as e-NABLE’s ‘helping hand’ prosthetics. However its second and equally important function is to build other 3D printers that can be distributed and used by local universities.

“Hopefully, one of these ‘helping hand’ recipients will see the technology they are benefiting from and one day be interested in creating and sharing open designs for someone else,” said Pearce. Indeed, if helping people is contagious, then all that’s needed is for beneficial technologies such as open source 3D printing to be introduced to a community so that local members can adopt it, appropriate it, and being to spread its benefits to those who need them the most.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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