The exponential growth of 3D printing technology has allowed for those with comfortable incomes to quickly materialize their original designs, but the idealized technology has received criticism for not being extendable to those less fortunate. While their printed products can severely reduce costs and make on-demand tools available to those in need, the printers themselves can cost thousands of dollars. How helpful are 3D printers to developing countries who can’t afford the machinery in the first place?
West African inventor Kodjo Afate Gnikou responds to this dilemma with resourcefulness to bring affordability and accessibility to 3D printing in his home country of Togo. Using mostly scavenged parts from Africa’s electronic junkyards, Afate was able to construct a 3D printer for less than $100.
His up and running hand-built 3D printer called W.Afate was modeled after the popular american printer, the Prusal Mendel. His printing project was overwhelmingly funded on Ulele, a European crowdfunding site.
As a central member of Woelab, an organization for technological innovation and agricultural sustainability in Africa, Afate’s 3D-printing goal is threefold. First, he wants to bring affordable, accessible, and quick solutions to material and tool deficits in African communities. Second, he wants Africa to join the technological race for innovation instead of quietly abiding as the world’s electronic dumping ground. In an interview with Euronews, Afate revealed that his dream is to “give young people hope and to show that Africa, too, has its place on the global market when it comes to technology.”
His final and even more pervasive goal is to provide an affordable alternative to extraterrestrial construction, whether in space or on Mars. His 3D printing project was nominated for NASA’s Space Apps Challenge, designed to provide an avenue for recycling technology while creating the flexibility necessary to build structures in extreme environments.