Imagine a doctor from the Democratic Republic of Congo who can create a prosthetic leg using materials found in his backyard. Or perhaps an engineering student who starts a new craze in acoustic instruments from the comfort of her room in South Africa (Vuvuzelas, anyone?). Custom designs, waste management solutions, home décor, next-generation devices— could all be designed, printed and sold by Africans to Africans and markets beyond using 3D printers.
Also referred to as “additive manufacturing,” 3D printing is the process of creating an object from a digital file (a CAD) by layering filaments to form the finished product. It has been hyped as a revolution that will make conventional manufacturing obsolete; by allowing people to create the products and tools they need in their own homes, end users could bypass engaging in trade with other people and corporations.
Open for Business
The African manufacturing landscape is unique and receptive to this form of technological development for a few reasons. First, the African manufacturing industry hasn’t grown to the size seen in many other regions, meaning that a developed industry wouldn’t be disrupted. Furthermore, interest in this technology seems to be high; supporters include the US Obama administration, who proposed a US$1-billion investment to “create a network of 15 manufacturing innovation institutes across the region.” The Singaporean government is following suite by putting aside US$400-million as investment in its Future of Manufacturing budget for 3D printing and robotics.
Service delivery can be brought to the ground level in order to stimulate entrepreneurship, and both African & international campaigns are looking to make this a reality. Prof. Neo Kok Beng, Chairman & Co-founder of Pirate3D, wants to “democratize innovation, foster creativity, and facilitate entrepreneurship in the local communities.” The printer company announced that it will be providing 3D technologies and training programs to selected African institutions as part of its corporate social responsibility program (CSR), which has a partnership with Professor Calestous Juma of Harvard University. Juma says, “youths should be given the opportunities to appreciate emerging technologies such as 3D technologies and apply their creativity to develop innovative products.”
Using the Smart Objects platform for 3D Apps, Pirate3D users would be able to create 3D objects using smartphones and web pads without learning the traditional CAD software. The beauty of these 3D-printed innovations is that they are Open Source, meaning that they are open ideas that could be built upon by other users. They are also able to share and store their designs on the cloud-based Pirate Distribution Network.
Techfortrade is the leading UK charity specifically focused on bridging the divide between emerging technology and international trade and economic development. The company aims to encourage technology entrepreneurs who have game-changing ideas to connect with the development community and bring those projects to life in relevant and practical ways.
Small steps are being taken, but they are going in the right direction. In Togo, the W. Afate 3D printer has already started to spark conversation about the West Africa’s innovative ambitions. The name comes from Woelab (a 20-strong community of African creators), and “Afate”, from the name of its inventor, Kodjo Afate Gnikou. Using crowdfunding from Ulule, a French crowdfunding organization, “Afate” built a workable 3-D printer using less than $100 in parts. Ulule investors provided him with a modest $4,000 to develop the low-cost fabricator, and a functional prototype was completed. In his crowdfunding page, Afate compares the potential impact of 3-D printing on society to that of the steam engine in the 19th century.
“My dream is to give young people hope and to show that Africa, too, has its place on the global market when it comes to technology. We are able to create things. Why is Africa always lagging behind when it comes to technology?”
Afate realized that the availability of proper materials was a major problem encountered by would-be innovators. Thus, the W.Afate 3D Printer was born: an empowering, easy to manufacture machine made entirely from recycled parts and easy to obtain materials.
Since its launch in October 2010, Ulule has helped finance 7298 creative, innovative or community-minded projects thanks to users from 140 countries.
You can help contribute to projects like the W. Afate, by visiting techfortrade & Ulule. If you’re looking to get your hands on a personal 3D printer, Pirate3D’s Buccaneer can be unboxed and set up in a matter of minutes with mobile and desktop platforms.
What you create? That’s up to you.