3D printing Nepal’s future

Nepal’s digital manufacturing sector, focused around 3D printing, is poised to flourish. Over the last six months we witnessed some incredible developments. Find out by reading on below…

Field Ready testing a 3D printed water pipe fitting supplying a camp for earthquake survivors in Nuwakot, Nepal.

Strength in Diversity

3D printing is an unpredictable business to be in. Surprising commissions and projects come up all the time, especially in Nepal. Zener Technologies was set up in 2015 just after the earthquake with the idea of bringing commercial 3D printing to Nepal. Zener have developed their 3D printer sales business achieving year-on-year growth in sales of over 100%. Zener has also created the first Nepali made 3D printer!

Nepal’s first 3D printers, made by Zener Technologies.

But it is their printing on demand service which has led to some unexpected contracts, for instance the contract from the glitzy talent show Nepal Idol for their 2018 golden mic awards and a large contract for 64 house models for a local real-estate developer requiring over 1,000 hours of printing. A sign that awareness and acceptance of the sector and the tech is increasing — and that it will be fun to see this sector grow!

The Nepal Idol ‘Golden Mic’ — One of the unexpected 3D printing commissions from early 2018

More exciting stuff is going on in the medical sector. Nepal’s leading biotech company, Centre for Molecular Dynamics Nepal run by Dibesh Karmacharya, developed a 3D printed EEG cap that saved the customer literally thousands of dollars without sacrificing performance. High performance items like these can be economically made by 3D printing provided experts are engaged during the planning, design and prototyping phases.

Mahabir Pun’s National Innovation Centre has also been leading the way in high-tech 3D printing. NIC have been developing parts for medical delivery drones and their thrust test rigs, supporting young engineers to make customised parts for robotics competitions and testing the possibilities for 3D printing by producing a fully 3D printed, functional water filter. These projects are pushing the very limits of the tech and aim to explore what exactly can be achieved with 3D printing — it turns out to be quite a lot!

NIC’s 3D printed water filter (left) and medical drone thrust test rig (lower right) and CMDN’s EEG monitor helmet design being printed (top right)

More, more, more…

Considering there were two 3D printers in Nepal in 2014, we’ve seen astronomical growth. Field Ready’s maker map of 3D printers in Nepal is growing and growing with over 30 3DP maker organisations identified (an increase of 50% in one year) with a total of 44 3D printers found in Nepal, with more being discovered and planned all the time. The sector is growing rapidly and covers areas including education, commercial manufacturing, prototyping, medical, prosthetics and orthotics, makerspaces and other models. Excitingly 3D printing seems to be escaping the gravitational pull of Kathmandu with organisations and printers identified for the first time in Nepalganj, Biratnagar, Itahari, Dharan and Pokhara. A welcome expansion that illustrates spreading demand and utility.

Getting to know you…

A growing sector: Rohit Sigdel, IT Manager at the prestigious British School, is facilitating the inclusion of 3D printing into the school’s IT and design curriculums.

Nepal’s 3D printing sector has also had a bumper few months in terms of media coverage in the local and national press with stories and programmes appearing on AP1 and Nepal TV, hugely raising the profile of the technology and organisations involved. Events like the Extrude 3D printing showcase event organised by the Forum for Digital Manufacturing (FDM) with DFID Nepal under the Frontier Technology Livestreaming (FTL) project served to raise awareness amongst potential customers and the next generation of engineers. The FDM was also represented at the Computer Association of Nepal Info Tech event, Nepal’s largest tech event with 200,000+ visitors over 4 days. FDM member Facebook and Twitter posts also regularly get thousands of views and shares, a key indicator of awareness and growth.

Putting in the hard hours and spreading the word about the 3D printing sector in Nepal, one conversation at a time (check out the number of reactions).

The ‘S’ word

Sustainability has been a big focus for DFID and Field Ready’s support of the 3D printing sector in Nepal. The Forum for Digital Manufacturing, the 3D printing industry body, took delivery of the 3D printer filament production machinery that Field Ready spent the last few months developing and honing to meet rigorous commercial standards.

Tech transfer of the 3D printer filament extruder to the Forum for Digital Manufacturing.

Now they have a means of producing raw materials to meet the demands of the whole industry and selling the filament at 25% of the cost of market alternatives, a revenue stream for the association and a massive saving for their members. This should drive innovation as the investment cost is lower in making untested things.

Next up is exploring e-waste as a source of the plastics required for 3D printer filament. We’re aiming at utilising sources of ABS plastic that currently have no value to scrap dealers and would otherwise be burned or buried. Watch this space…

Field Ready is also supporting the sector to develop its own activities, with Robotics Association of Nepal and Zener Technologies starting a UNDP funded project later this year to develop sector capacity and potentially bringing the first SLA printer to Nepal, meaning a step-change in technological capacity and the opening up of sectors like handicrafts and jewellery mould production, impossible with FDM printers in Nepal before now. Future engagement with higher education engineering faculties and events like the 2018 Kathmandu Mini Maker Faire taking place in September provides the opportunity to engage thousands of young engineering students on how 3D printing can work as a tool and resource throughout their future career.

Need or want?

3D printing is great, super fun, exciting and interesting. A technology of the future, but is it actually necessary or even useful now? That’s a question we’ve been trying to answer for some time. Field Ready have been working in Nepal with local partners including NGOs, hospitals and local enterprises to profile their needs and understand the particular challenges they face in meeting the needs of their customers and beneficiaries. It starts with needs assessments — in depth placements or visits to partners to learn how they work and what issues they are having, for example the year-long engagement with a biomedical engineering team at a local hospital. We are then able to identify problems that we can solve, sometimes with 3D printing. Here are a few examples of problems addressed to come from the FTL project:

Sharps Bottle Cap — On a needs assessment visit to a health post in southern Nepal we found a full syringe disposal box made of cardboard on the floor of a healthpost that had been flooded just weeks earlier. Using our design partners around the world, in this case Rotterdam University, we were able to develop a $1 design that turns a standard fizzy drinks bottle into safe sharps storage.

Sharps storage (L to R) Cardboard storage, first prototype, user feedback adjusted prototype.

Needle Destroyer — On sharing the design for the sharps bottle with medical professionals we discovered that over 20% of staff surveyed in Nepal’s health sector (hospitals, red cross orgs and health centres) have experienced needle-stick injuries in the last year increasing to 60–80% in the last 5 years. Safe disposal of needles is a priority. We developed an electronic needle destroyer that melts and sterilises used needles within 3 seconds and fits on the top of standard sharps disposal containers.

Needle destroyer prototype — 3D printed rim makes it adjustable to the sharps container.

We’ve also been working hard on 3D printed water pipe fittings for refugee and post-disaster IDP camp settings to reduce dependence on marketplaces and conventional supply chains.

Fitting a prototype 3D printed pipe fitting to non-standard sized pipes in a displaced peoples’ camp.

A spin-off product from this project was a 3D printed pipe-cutter device that uses 3DP parts, a bolt and nut and a simple razor blade.

3D printed water pipe cutter — produces excellent results even with large diameter plastic pipes.

Another spin off product was a reservoir feeder pipe strainer unit designed within a day to solve a specific need at an INGO managed water supply project.

The strainer design solved a problem in hours that would have otherwise taken the customer weeks.

Other products for the health sector that we’re developing in Nepal include a low-cost fluid warmer for warming IV saline, increasing accessibility for these products through dramatic cost reductions (90%), a vein finder based on open source designs under trial at the moment, a 3D printed hand-powered centrifuge for analysing blood samples and many other designs.

Medical sector support in Nepal is a logical place for 3D printing to prove its potential for impact and value. Tackling challenges like broken or unaffordable medical equipment and providing a tailored resource for hospital biomedical engineering teams can yield great results. We’ve seen the value and we know that this is an opportunity for 3D printing to benefit Nepal. However, the wider question remains, how does the sector make money and grow?

Greater than the sum of its parts…

As well as solving challenges faced by partners, developing local design capacity through training is another aspect to Field Ready’s work in Nepal

3D printing has at its heart a hyperlocal, specialised, small production run ethos. It is part of the logic and attraction of the technology. However in order to thrive and grow the 3D printing sector needs commercial contracts that offer value for money to customers and guarantee the quality that customers expect. A small maker can’t win a big contract. That’s why Field Ready have been continuing trials of various aspects of the MakerNet distributed manufacturing system. A system that taps into networks of existing capacity to allow larger orders to be fulfilled by smaller manufacturers as a group through blockchain-based smart contracts. It’s a system whose time has come and, with the driving factors of value for money, technological readiness and market necessity, it is a way of doing business that could have profound implications for small and medium scale manufacturing in Nepal and beyond.

We’ve learned so much and seen so many cool and unexpected developments in the sector. Now the FTL 3D printing project in Nepal will continue to learn about the areas where 3D printing solves problems and provides significant value and impact for users and their beneficiaries with a triple focus: 1. Gathering evidence of that impact, 2. Expansion into the education sector and training to create a generation of 3DP-aware engineers, 3. Further needs assessments to identify and address real world problems. With these exciting next steps Field Ready and Nepal’s 3D printing sector should be established on a sound footing for now and long into the future.