3D printing helps boost WASH components of humanitarian responses



This article was originally published on the Humanitarian Coalition‘s blog, here.




3D printing (also called additive manufacturing) has been around for a number of years, but is only recently being utilized for new, innovative projects. From small trinkets to icing on cookies, all the way to construction materials and artificial limbs for amputees, 3D printing can be used in a number of different settings to create unique objects. Because of this success, 3D printing is now being seen as a useful addition to humanitarian responses. It has burst onto the humanitarian scene, helping people in a number of new, innovative ways.

While 3D printers may not be the most effective in immediate humanitarian responses, they can provide long-term aid, making them a sustainable resource. Common items, such as hand-washing stations and water buckets, can also be made in advance, and then shipped when needed.

How do 3D printers work?

invention_13D printers work by using various materials to make solid objects; multiple layers of material are stacked on top of each other in crossed-patterns in order to print, and ultimately create, the object in question. Types of materials used to print objects are typically plastic or metal. Different types of 3D printers use different types of material, but they all operate the same way: creating multiple layers to ultimately create an object.

Before being printed, the object must be created on a computer using a computer-assisted design (CAD) program, which then sends the image to the printer. Prices for 3D printers and the materials used to print objects all depend on the quality of the products you are wishing to create.

Oxfam and MyMiniFactory


Recently, Oxfam International partnered with an online organization called MyMiniFactory.com to create resources using 3D printers to help those being directly affected by the current crisis in Syria. MyMiniFactory is a free online database that offers information and designs for 3D printing, ranging from at-home hobby projects to large-scale, professional projects.

For the first stage of the project, MyMiniFactory created an online campaign that invited participants from around the world to submit designs for objects that could be used to help combat issues related to water, sanitation and hygiene that Syrian refugees in refugee camps in Lebanon were facing. The call for designs asked for a “Hand Washing Device.”

3DPrinter_OxfamContracting waterborne illnesses, such as diarrhea, is a deadly issue that can be combatted by simply ensuring proper hand-washing techniques.

After designs were submitted, they were reviewed by engineers. The best ones were sent to be 3D printed, and prototypes were created and distributed throughout the refugee camps. People living in the camps tested the prototypes, and reported back with any suggested improvements. After the initial testing stage, the best prototypes were recorded, and were scheduled for mass production in the late Fall of 2014.

A list of the designs that were created to help increase WASH activities within refugee camps can be found here. The designs are listed along with instructions for use, and information pertaining to their updates after the initial testing, which explain how small adjustments ensure even better success. Almost all of the designs are new, innovative takes on hand-washing stations, which would help ensure that those living in the refugee camps properly wash their hands, which reduces the risk of water-borne illnesses.

More information about the partnership, and various designs, can be found here.

A video explaining one of the inventions, a hand-washing station designed by Rob Delaney, can be viewed here.


Elizabeth DiCesare

Elizabeth DiCesare

Elizabeth is a writer currently based in Kitchener-Waterloo.

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