May 12, 2016 | By Alec

Pope Francis is known for embracing numerous technologies as tools that can help mankind and bring us all closer together. Among others, you can already find his inspiring messages on Twitter and Instagram. But it looks like we can add another 21rst century technology to that list, as the Pope has also embraced 3D printing. During the General Audience at St. Peter’s Square in Rome earlier this week, the Pope blessed two 3D printer mini-factories that are heading towards Africa to make prosthetics for local amputees. Francis also met with the group of Italian schoolchildren who developed the mini-factories through a crowdfunding campaign.

The 3D printer factories themselves are the results of an amazing Italian crowdfunding initiative called Crowd4Africa. It was set up by 15 students between the ages of 15 and 17, all from the Jesuit-run technical school The Massimiliano Massimo Institute in Rome. They have been working very hard to make 3D printing available to those people who need it most. Together with the help of numerous volunteers and the Open BioMedical Initiative, they have done their best to develop two 3D printing mini-factories for hospitals in Gulu, Uganda and Kenge, the Congo.

That’s exactly where 3D printing is most needed. According to the World Health Organization, more than 20 million people in the world need prosthetics, with an estimated 2 percent receiving the help they need. The rest of those people are overwhelmingly located in the war-torn regions of Africa, where medical treatment is a rare thing. In the Kenge Caritas center in the Congo, there’s only physician available for 150,000 people, while the Lacor Hospital in Uganda uses limited funds to help more than 250,000 people every year. “We have chosen these location due to the level of difficulty locals encounter in acquiring prosthetics and the high costs they are faced with should they manage to get their hands on the product,” the students explained.

In fact, traditional prosthetics in Africa can cost up to thirty times more than a prosthetic 3D printed on location. That is exactly why Crowd4Africa aspired to build two 3D printing mini-factories, consisting of a pellet shredder, an extruder, three 3D printers (one large one), a 3D acquisition system and two PCs. The set also comes with numerous tutorials, tools, and spare parts. Ideally, they can be used to turn local plastic waste (bottle caps and empty containers) into beneficial prosthetics. Taking their concept to Italian crowdfunding platform Eppela, the students were able to raise nearly $25,000 to successfully realize these 3D printing mini-factories with support of Postepay and Visa.

The 3D Printed WIL prosthesis is designed by Vito Losavio of Open BioMedical Initiative 

These kits are now nearly ready to be shipped to Africa, and even received the best possible support you can find. During the audience in St. Peter’s Square, the students met with the Pope, who was very impressed with their enterprise. The Pope blessed their 3D printer factories, as well as one example prosthetic. The mini-factories also fit in closely with the Audience’s central message of praying and caring for the sick.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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