Nov 14, 2016 | By Tess

Perhaps one of the best things about 3D printing technology is how democratic and accessible it can be. Of course, while not everyone can afford a state of the art industrial or desktop 3D printer, there are tons of options out there for those who want to 3D print for cheap or who want to build their own additive manufacturing systems. Recently, for instance, we came across the particularly inspiring story of Afate Gnikou, a Togolese inventor who built his very own 3D printer from electronic waste he gathered from landfills.

Gnikou’s foray into 3D printing began in 2013, when the 37-year-old geographer took part in a contest organized by local tech incubator WoeLab to build Togo’s first ever 3D printer. At the time, he wanted to draw attention to the huge amount of electronic waste that was ending up in Togolese, Nigerian, and Ghanaian landfills, largely from second hand computers from Europe and abroad, so decided to build his 3D printer out of these wasted materials.

Since participating in the contest, Gnikou has continued to work on his innovative 3D printer, made entirely from recycled parts, and has been recognized for his determination. In 2014, for instance, Gnikou and his team were awarded first place at Fab10, an international event hosted in Barcelona geared towards accessible technologies. As the maker explains, however, even this award did not help him to raise funds or find a partner for the project.

Gnikou at Fab10 in Barcelona (2014)

Despite these challenges, Gnikou is still determined to further develop his 3D printer and turn it into a viable product for the African market. As he explained, “I want to adapt the 3D printer to the Togolese and, indeed, African context and to fit local needs.” This has involved making a more sturdy and durable 3D printer model, and improving its structural frame.

For example, while the first 3D printer model was built using the body from a computer, the second iteration has integrated the body of a scanner, and plastic parts from computer monitors. This has allowed him to make the 3D printer more solid than before. Additionally, Gnikou has added lights to the 3D printer, which means it can more easily be used at night or in darker spaces.

3D printed knee prostheses

Ultimately, the Togolese maker is hoping to use his recycled 3D printer to make affordable and custom fit prostheses for the people in his community. As he explained in an interview, “There are many people in my community living with disabilities. If I ask them why they don’t use medical prostheses, they smile and say 'My friend, they are too expensive!.'”

Like in many places, prostheses are still relatively unaccessible in Togo largely because of their high cost. Under the current system, prosthetic devices are all standardized and imported to Togo from abroad, meaning not only high costs but also ill-fitting or generically sized prostheses. Gnikou hopes that his 3D printer will help to create affordable and specially customized prostheses for those who cannot afford regular ones. “With a 3D printer, we could what we need and free our continent from its dependence on imports.”

The DIY 3D printer has so far printed about 150 objects, though all relatively small in size, the largest being 16 cm in width and 12 cm in height. To help move his vision forwards, Gnikou is continually looking for interested partners and additional funding. Primarily, he is looking to expand his workshop space (he is currently working out of his parents’ house), and to set up a training facility where he can teach young people to build their own 3D printers and machines. “My goal would be to get them to the point where they are able to create objects that respond to concrete needs or help them in their daily lives,” he said.



Posted in 3D Printer



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