PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti— In the poverty stricken Republic of Haiti, 3D printing has found a use beyond the tinkering of toy makers in affluent industries. Thanks to the efforts of iLab // Haiti, two 3D printers are now being tasked with helping to reduce poverty by fabricating essential products that are difficult to procure or are in short supply.
A small island country located in the Caribbean, Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas as measured by the Human Development Index. Subject to bouts of political violence and periodic, but disastrous environmental disasters, Haitians are often left without access to basic infrastructures such as running water, electricity, and shipping or postal service.
This makes Haiti the target of many poverty alleviation efforts. While many have succeeded many more have failed to positively impact poverty in a meaningful way. Much of the problem stems from high barriers (corruption) and inadequate infrastructural support for shipping and electricity. Predictably, materials, tools and training become difficult to procure and relief efforts are hindered.
But what if a poverty alleviation organization taught the design process and provided the fabrication tools? This is the mission of iLab // Haiti. In partnership with Haiti Communitere, KIDmob, and The Blue Marble Movement, iLab //Haiti seeks to “provide access to tools for design and fabrication and to teach creative problem solving strategies.” In doing so, iLab // Haiti is providing both the product and means to use it, but also the ability to ultimately create and recreate the product at home.
Utilizing two MakerBot Replicator 1’s iLab // Haiti is helping to teach Haitians how to create simple but useful items like medical devices. Using 3D modeling tools like SketchUp and Rhino, locals are currently protoyping umbilical cord clamps which will help assist in hospitals and local clinics with on demand manufacturing. This hyper-localized manufacturing helps to sidestep corrupt import channels, ultimately reducing costs and lowering barriers to relief efforts.
Creating medical devices like umbilical clamps and prosthetic arms is only the beginning. 3D printers are a new a versatile technology whose applications are unknown and potentially far reaching. Moreover, iLab // Haiti’s current implementation model for 3D printing in Haiti is helping to circumvent corruption and building infrastructure through education and industry building. This proposed closed loop system could also positively benefit the environment.
iLab // Haiti’s 3D printing project is currently importing the spools of plastic used as printing material from outside of Haiti. However, the long terms plan is to sterilize the plastic post-use, grind it up, and convert it back to reusable spools. Moreover, the project is currently investigating whether any waste materials readily available in-country (plastic bottles littered throughout the streets) could be repurposed into plastic for the 3D printers. Aside from helping to clean up, this can potentially help seed industries, infrastructure and foster job creation.