How 3D Printing Will Change Maker Culture in Nigeria and Africa

UCHE AJUONUMA
Oct 31, 2017 · 7 min read
Making of the IROH-2 Drone at Youth for Technology Foundation

The evolution of manufacturing is indeed a subject of intense fascination. From wood carving, through stone grinding, blacksmithing, fabrication to digital manufacturing, the story has continuously changed. None of these processes has ever gone without its own success and impact in human lives. Through brick burning, the Egyptian cities were built. The first industrial revolution came from blacksmithing, casting, forging and other fabrication processes. Rocket was launched from a complex system engineering. Today, it is no longer news that physical items can be manufactured from a machine simply by laying material just as a printing machine lays ink on a paper. The same way a typist can type a document and a graphics designer designs some graphics and have them printed on a paper, an engineer, an architect or an artist can model an item and print it out in 3-dimensional (real nature) form. Forgive me if I am not a good teacher. For your sake, I will try to improve in this piece. The 3D (3-dimensional) figure you see on a computer screen can be collected in a physical form by you right on your desk in a very simple processes of laying material layer upon layer from a machine called 3D printer until the item is made. This is called 3D printing.

It can also be called additive manufacturing or rapid prototyping. It is additive manufacturing because a product is manufactured from a machine by adding materials in successive layers contrary to the traditional method of manufacturing which subtracts materials from a piece such as caving, engraving, milling, turning etc. 3D printing allows you to manufacture your item directly from a digital file. Better put, 3D printing is the action or process of making a physical object from a 3-dimensional digital model, typically by laying down many thin layers of a material in succession. You may need to generate a CAD (Computer Aided Design) files, 3D scan or collect some photogrammetric files, prepare it before the machine can 3D print it. The intention of this article is beyond explaining the process or skill of 3D printing. Here, I intend to explain how African makers culture can be changed through this set of technology (3D printing).

Since 1981, this technology has been in existence in America. Though, it became so popular in the 2010s when Chuck Hull’s stereolithography patent expired. Meanwhile, recently, as years progress and technology continually advances, additive methods of manufacturing are moving ever further into the production end of manufacturing. Milling and lathe machines were primarily used for manufacturing parts, these parts that formerly were made through subtractive method (e.g. Milling, Machining, Grinding, etc.) can now in some cases be made more profitably through additive means (3D printing). Despite this, 3D printing does not aim at eradicating subtractive manufacturing, rather to compensate it. This will provide autonomy in manufacturing by making makers and developers more flexible in choosing what to make and the most effective ways to make them.

Some years ago, just but a very few thousand-people owned telephone in Nigeria. Fax machine was not a thing for everybody. Communication was very difficult such that when you want to send a letter today, you will be prepared to receive your response in months. The emergence of computers, GSMs, internet broadband and smartphones has disrupted communication and the way we do business. Initially, one could mistakenly assume that GSMs would end up as a device just for phone calls and text messaging. Today, GSM is far beyond this. It has added value to every lives and business in the world including developing countries like Nigeria. In this manner, 3D printing will change the way business are done in Nigeria. It will transform the country’s manufacturing industry and democratize “Making”. Like computers, smartphones and the internet, 3D printing will affect business and behaviour in Nigeria and its manufacturing industries. 3D printing services are growing in number per day. Good news is that the service is shareable and can allow you to 3D print anything on you own from some set of open-source online catalogues (e.g. Thingiverse, GrabCAD, 3DExport.com, etc.). You do not need to be an engineer to manufacture your products. With a little CAD knowledge, you can tweak the items from the online catalogue and customize it to your choice or place an order from 3D design shops.

Mrs. Ebri’s Wireless Hairdryer

In 2013, I had a female client in Nigeria who had an idea for making wireless hairdryer. She is a beauty artist and the owner of HairWizards Gold, one of the best salons in Owerri, Imo State, Nigeria. Unfortunately, Mrs. Ebri has no engineering skill, she did not know any industry to consult for this before she was referred to me. I was then a fresh graduate of mechanical engineering and an excellent hardware developer. I designed a perfectly working prototype of her idea, but the package was nothing to write home about. She had to request a branded case for her product. We went back to the drawing board and modeled a case for her. This time, it was end of the road for us since we had no facility or technology to locally manufacture the case. She had no option at this point but travel to china. The cost of tooling was so much that Mrs. Ebri had to completely drop her innovation since it was something she could not afford. There are many who have dropped their ideas or were unable to market them due to poor or lack of branding. Good news! 3D printing provides a privilege to brand your product even from your bedroom.

Many Nigerians lost their limbs to amputation yearly through diabetics and some other cases. 3D printing has been proven to offer great support to people living without limbs or hands. There have been great interventions from some organizations in Canada to amputees in Africa. You can take a look at what NIA Technologies in Toronto and University of Ottawa are doing in Africa. The former has a good record for providing limbs to limb amputees in Uganda and other East Africa while the latter provides hands for the handless in the Burkina Faso and some other Africa countries. Now the big question is. What if we can afford another legs and hands or are able to replace some missing human parts for Nigeria in a very cost-effective manner? 3D printing can give hope to the amputees, afford teeth for the toothless and even reduce the cost of Kidney transplant for poor Nigerians. It is an evidence that human parts can now be easily 3D printed using special bio-materials. Same can be done in Nigeria.

One of the many reasons why some Nigerians would prefer to travel abroad for medical treatment has been due to poor medical facilities in the countries’ local hospitals. Many lose their lives to poor attention resulted from inadequate facilities. Many medical facilities can be 3D printed, thereby saving cost and lives at the same time in Nigeria.

A Cyborg Beast prosthetic hand. Image from theguardian.com

Drone technologies has been greatly resourceful all over the world. Embedded technologies, Internet of Things (IoT) and robotics are reshaping the world. Skills and jobs are changing. It is a no doubt that over 60% of the jobs today will no longer be there in the next 20 years. 3D printing has made its way into the above listed emerging technologies. Good news is that, some Nigerian youths from Akure, Lagos, Anambra, Aba, Owerri are already up to speed with this trend, building and developing hardware, open source technologies and at the same time are ever willing to teach and collaborate with others provided a common space can be made available for them.

3D printing is also called rapid prototyping. What if the young Nigerian makers are able to prototype their ideas on a fly? What if we improve packing and branding in Nigeria through 3D printing? What if everyone can make what they want with no need of becoming an engineer? All these can be made possible through 3D printing. To win the campaign and improve the nation’s manufacturing for today and for the future, proper orientation is needed for the youths. The youths need to be empowered with skills that align with the emerging technologies. Makerspaces need to be established in schools, universities, libraries and community centers. In the makerspaces, the aforementioned skill sets can be taught and learnt. Makerspaces contain tool-sets like 3D printers that necessitate making. The intervention of government, community leaders and stakeholders cannot be overemphasized on achieving this movement. Nigeria needs maker ecosystem that will encourage emerging technologies that will allow the makers to leverage on the already existing technologies to innovate for bigger things in the country. Through this, indigenous products will be developed for local and global consumption.

UCHE AJUONUMA

Written by

An Innovation evangelist| Maker Advocate| 3D Printing Expert| Design Engineer| STEM Educator| Makers Community Mobilizer| A Husband & A Father of 2 Whiz kids

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