Mar 02, 2017

Designing the Future: 3D printing medical devices in Africa Kickstarter campaign initiated

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. ReFab Dar is a pilot program funded by The World Bank to explore how plastic waste can power entrepreneurship using 3D printers in Tanzania, designing a machine to create recycled plastic filament that would be available to youth to make products.

Despite the fact that 98% of solid waste generated per day can be recycled, only 10% is actually recycled. The remaining 90% is disposed in dumpsites and informal urban areas, presenting an unique recycling opportunity. At the same time, the recycling industry has started to grow because of new initiatives, community organizations and private companies. But the majority collect or purchase plastic waste from collectors, primarily with a view to export, rather than recycle or reuse locally.

Meanwhile, opportunities for creativity and entrepreneurship through 3D printing are expanding.

3D printing is an additive manufacturing process that applies layers of materials to develop an object that is made up of thinly sliced horizontal layers. The design of the object is made using CAD software, then is sent to the 3D printer. 3D printers can be found in schools and other training institutions, digital fabrication and maker spaces, small R&D labs or even at home. Maker spaces or digital fabrication laboratories are surfacing - small-scale workshops that offer printing services to the tinkerers, creative problem solvers, entrepreneurs or anyone who wishes to apply and build on their technical skills.

Filament for 3D printers can be developed from PET, found in many plastic bottles. 

Predictions suggest that 3D printing filament market will reach 1.052 million $ by 2019. Currently in Tanzania, the cost of 1kg of filament can rise to as much as 60$ or even 80$, including fees for shipping. This creates a barrier for the fledgling local communities interested in 3D printing to access the necessary supplies. Instead, filament can be sourced directly from waste picker groups in developing countries. Initiatives popping up around the world are already taking advantage of this opportunity, such as one pilot study in India to develop ethical 3D printer filament made out of HDPE plastic. This filament can also be used for 3D printing prototypes or products themselves depending on their complexity and design.

The ReFab Dar mission

ReFab Dar tests the opportunity to shift PET plastic waste to value through collaboration across the recycling industry, local innovators and entrepreneurs, makers and tinkerers, leveraging 3D printers and new, low-cost PET extruder technology. The initiative will assess the feasibility and the market opportunity to turn PET plastic waste into 3D printer filament that can be sold locally of globally, and to print unique, locally appropriate and marketable products, which could be then traded and sold by young entrepreneurs back to their communities. Through the practical application of 3D printing in the context of plastic waste, the initiative also aims contribute to the broader movement on turning waste to value, as well as to the development of local maker and digital fabrication communities.