Mar 18, 2016 | By Benedict

Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF), the international humanitarian NGO, has been using 3D printing and virtual reality technology to design hospitals. The organization believes that 3D models will provide a more complete picture of planned developments for project partners such as local ministries of health.

Unless you were a fan of EA’s inexplicably popular PC game Theme Hospital during the late 90s, you’ve probably never walked down the corridors of a virtual hospital. However, for reasons far more important than gaming, workers at MSF are starting to do just that. The NGO, which works in around 70 countries across the globe to deliver aid and urgent medical care, has been using both 3D printing and virtual reality technology to bring its hospital blueprints to life, enabling both hospital designers and representatives of the recipient areas to set foot in new buildings before a single brick has been placed.

Being at the forefront of international aid, MSF is consistently seeking ways to implement new and emergent technologies in order to better deliver its vital medical facilities. With both 3D printing and virtual reality on the rise, it seemed appropriate for the NGO to assess ways in which the two technologies could be utilized to benefit its future projects. “The idea of this project was really to see how we can make use of 3D printing technologies and virtual reality to help MSF better design our hospitals,” said Elvina Motard, MSF Technical Team Leader.

To complete the proof of concept, Motard and her team worked with 3D design experts to transform the original plans for an existing hospital—one built in Cantahay, the Philippines, after Typhoon Haiyan struck the area in 2013—into a digital 3D model. This model was then 3D printed to create a physical scale model of the hospital, complete with removable rooftops and movable people and equipment. Simultaneously, the digital 3D model was developed into a virtual reality experience within a game engine—not so unlike Theme Hospital after all—where users can walk through the digital hospital using a VR headset and handheld controller.

“Such technologies will undoubtedly make discussions more efficient, more vivid and more graphic,” said Jean Pletinckx, MSF Director of Logistics. “They will allow people to really see themselves inside our future hospital and this will improve hospital design as well as training and briefings. It will also allow our partners, like local ministries of health, to better understand what we can provide and better feedback on our suggestions.”

In just 4 months, MSF and its consultants were able to turn the original hospital plans into both a 3D printed model and a fully navigable virtual reality world. What’s more, future projects could be completed in an even shorter timeframe, since several aspects of the proof of concept will be reusable for similar projects. MSF hopes that, in the near future, 3D models will be drawn up for planned hospitals, which can then be sent digitally anywhere in the world to all parties concerned. This will allow multiple individuals to give feedback on the design, which can be used to refine the hospital until fit for purpose.

Although the 3D printed model of the Cantahav hospital contains 3D printed medical staff and patients, the virtual hospital only shows the architectural structure of the building and the stationary objects within, such as hospital beds, furniture, and equipment. However, with further development, the virtual reality model could be supplemented with representations of human activity: “As the project develops further, it will be possible to create a dynamic environment, simulating patient and staff movements” explained Pletinckx. “We are at a stage now where our staff will really be able to feel or see what they will face in the field before they leave and indeed, even before the structure is built. There is no doubt that this is the way we will work in the future.”

MSF was established in France in 1971. Last year, over 30,000 medical, logistical, and sanitation workers, all under the guidance of the organization, provided medical aid in more than 70 countries.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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