The popularity of 3D printers has been growing, and with it the range of objects that can be created using it. Parallel to this development, we see a continual decrease in cost. 3D printers have evolved the ability to print a variety of useful items and tools: food, guns, spoons, body parts, cars, and houses. There does not seem to be many boundaries to the creative and useful capabilities of 3D printer technology.
Mick Ebeling, CEO and founder of Not Impossible Labs, the research firm aims to change the lives of people around the world by collaborating with creative makers, and others to provide low-cost solutions for various healthcare issues. Ebeling took his wearable technology created inexpensively with a 3D printer, to Sudan in order to help make some lives better. The team assembled by Ebeling, includes the South African inventor of the Robohand, an Australian MIT neuroscientist, also supported by Intel, Precipart, and a 3D printing company in California.
Currently, there are more than 50,000 amputees in South Sudan, where amputation is used as a form of punishment. Ebeling traveled to the Nuba Mountains with 3D printers, plastic, and laptops, with the goal of helping amputees. Ebeling has also been teaching the production methods to locals so that they can carry on the project long after he has left. The limbs they developed are inexpensive enough to be available to anyone who needs one, costing around $100 to produce, and they can be printed within roughly six hours, instead of the drawn out waits normally expected in the world of limb replacement.
Sudan has experienced a surge in violence recently, and thousands have fled the area of Bentiu as government troops launch an offensive attack against Riek Machar. More than 8,000 have fled to United Nations (UN) camps, and others to remote areas and swamps. There have also been many reports of looting, vandalism, and thousands of deaths.
U.S. officials (eager to spread some “democracy”) are having a difficult time keeping themselves out of the conflict. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a top U.S. Diplomat for Africa, stated this week that “Each day that the conflict continues, the risk of all-out civil war grows.”
The crisis began with a political dispute in December of 2013, as President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, accused his former vice-president, Riek Machar, an ethnic Nuer, of trying to overthrow the government.
3D printing technology is also helping others around the world, for instance an aid group in Haiti is also making use of the technology by printing medical supplies in the poverty-stricken nation. The technology has been allowing medical professionals to print umbilical cord clamps, where previously those delivering the baby were required to use their own rubber gloves, and then deliver the babies bare handed with women who were HIV-positive. The organization is also testing various cloths and fibers in the attempt to create other medical supplies: gauze, bags, using the same technology.
3D printers are helping to fill the void of not having sufficient resources, or access to specific tools like umbilical cord clamps or fitted limb replacements, by allowing the production of almost limitless objects, using limited resources.