Technology Salon


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a discussion at the intersection of technology and development

How Is 3D Printing Relevant for 
International Development?


Just as the Internet changed the communications world in the 1990s, 3D Printing is the set to change the physical world. This new technology is revolutionizing the way that we make products, by bringing the factory into the community and allowing computers and the Internet to become the new conduit for skills, innovation and creativity in manufacturing.

3D printing is not a new technology, but the original patents have now expired, creating an explosion of new smaller machines and products as well as a reduction in prices, so the possibilities for the use of this technology for economic and social benefit become increasingly tangible. However, there is a risk that this technology will create yet another digital divide, where the have’s will again have more than the have not’s.

Sophie Jones, with the Additive manufacturing & 3D printing firm Econolyst set the scene and William Hoyle, CEO of techfortrade provided insights into some of the issues that need to be tackled if emerging industry value chain models that 3D printing enables are to be really inclusive in terms of economic benefits accruing within developing markets.

What are the 3D printing opportunities in developing economies?
The discussion focused on understanding just where the technology might come into it’s own and which ‘use cases’ offered most opportunity, for example, the creation of new and unique products that were enabled by 3D printing versus the more tangible benefits that accrue from being able to get spare parts to remote places.

There were useful thoughts on Market segmentation of the opportunity as being: prototyping; spare part production; getting parts to remote places; and unique solution creation

To what ends could a 3D printing program aim to reach?
At the moment there is a feeling that 3D Printing’s opportunity will have a similar tipping point as for the Mobile industry that took it from 1 billion to 6 billion handsets. These changes could be expected to include: a massive reduction in costs; the emergence of an economic model to suit developing economies and perhaps most likely to happen quickly, the use of a village 3D Printer model.

What funding and support is needed to develop a properly coordinated international programme?
The challenges and barriers to 3D Printing were defined in the salon as including: the Supply Chain (Data transfer / SDL files / Materials / Costs of printers); Infrastructure, such as the availability of power and internet coverage; and legislation around IP 

Who is using it now? And what best practices are already happening?
During salon there were references to a number of organisations and initiatives already piloting 3D printing below.

3D Printing and international development. techfortrade

Ethical Filament Foundation

3D Printing and disaster relief:

Economist article from the 3D4D Challenge:

3D Printing in the developing world. Michigan Tech.

Protoprint and Ethical filament:

Life-cycle economics of distributed 3D printing. Michigan Tech.


3d4d Challenge Final Rehearsal day. The finalists talking about their projects.

Fripp Design. How to make a prosthesis on a 3D Printer

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