Dec 30, 2015 | By Andre

Poverty reduction and relief strategies have always been near to my heart. A few years back, I was part of a hurricane relief program on the island nation of Grenada and while I hope to think I did my part, my major takeaway was the importance of sustainability during any relief effort. What happens when the relief workers leave; will the recovery efforts thrive independently?

Andrew Lamb, an advisor at Field Ready, a non-governmental organization dedicated to finding technologically prudent and innovative field solutions, seems to agree. While in Nepal after last year’s devastating earthquake to promote low-cost 3D printing as a potential game changer, he brought up an old proverb.

It’s probably one of the first things you learn when you’re at school and you start learning about charity and there’s this basic thing that what you should be doing is not just giving a man a fish and all that rubbish … And then there’s a phase where you think that’s naive and the world doesn’t work that way.

In the end, the proverb he’s paraphrasing does have its merits and that is surely a big reason why Field Ready has the potential to make a difference where it matters most. “But what we’d really like to see is the major aid agencies adopting this technology themselves. We’re not being precious about the existence of our organization. What we want to ensure is that the innovation is successful because we think it can significantly improve the effectiveness of disaster response.”

In this particular case, teaching someone to fish equates to showing someone the ins-and-outs of using a 3D printer as well as basics of design.

Field Ready is one of the few NGO’s out there (iLab Haiti is another) that focus on using 3D printing technology as a tool in disaster riddled regions to produce replacement parts and life-saving medical equipment on the fly.

A great example showcasing the effectiveness of 3D printing on the field took place in Nepal after it was noticed that many of the water pipes flown were missing essential fittings and washers necessary to provide a required water-tight seal. Lamb and his team quickly designed a compatible seal and printed it, on site, right on the hood of their Land Rover.

“We put it on the pipe and, hey presto, it worked. The hairs on the back of your neck stand up because you realize that you’re on to something here. Everybody standing around watching us – the water engineers, the local partner, the chap from Oxfam, the local social committee – were just watching, going, ‘This makes sense. This is what we need’.” 

The above example may still fall into the category of giving a man a fish, but Lamb and the Field Ready team truly do have real developmental sustainability in mind. In September of 2015, Field Ready gave a seminar on 3D printing in Nepal and Haiti to demonstrate the merits and restrictions of the technology in real world situations.

While admitting the technology has its limits - such as print size restrictions along with logistical barriers due to failing infrastructure - the promise to quickly produce lifesaving parts both cheaply and locally has great future potential. Lamb suggests that in Haiti, a 10 cent umbilical cord clamp costs $1 there, meaning 90% of the price in this specific case goes to transport costs. “We are pretty convinced that even if we can make a 40%-50% saving on the cost of logistics, you’re talking about freeing up between $5bn and $7bn a year. But to do that, we would need wide-scale adoption of the innovation, which is what we’re interested in pursuing with the response in Nepal.”

Field Ready is definitely on the right track. They’re currently teaming up with World Vision on an innovation lab in Nepal, are working on a supplies/design catalogue for aid agencies and looking into other open digital manufacturing technologies like laser cutters, polyfloss and local injection moulding resources in hopes to minimize the reliance on manufactured imports.

When it comes to sustainability, a network of functional printers with access to an open and free library of printable parts is exactly what is needed. Just like any solution when it comes to international development, there is no silver bullet that will alleviate all the world’s suffering and problems, but using 3D Printing as envisioned by Field Ready are making important inroads to global, positive change.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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