With some of the largest refugee crises in human history currently occurring, the need for fast and effective disaster relief is now more important than ever. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) estimates that 164.2 million people on the planet received some form of humanitarian assistance during 2016 [1
] and that number is likely to grow in coming years. The core of any humanitarian response to a disaster (natural or man-made) is a logistical effort to move goods from where they are available to where an affected population is located [2
]. Yet, supply chain logistics for humanitarian responses are some of the most complex that exist. It is challenging to forecast both the demand (due to difficulties in knowing both the timing of a disaster and details of the population affected) and the supply, which is often fueled by donations [4
]. A massive mismatch between the supplies delivered and the supplies that are needed is often inevitable both in quantity and kind [2
]. As 60–80% of all aid money is spent on procurement, this mismatch represents not only costly errors but errors that can have negative long-term effects on local markets and economies [5
Rapid manufacturing using 3-D printing is a potential solution to some of these pressing issues in humanitarian logistics. This has become potentially feasible with the open source 3-D printers developed from the self-replicating rapid prototyper (RepRap) project [6
]. The RepRap project has driven down costs of 3-D printing to fit resource-constrained contexts like those found in the developing world or during a crisis [9
]. The potential for 3-D printers in humanitarian aid work has been able to capture the interest of practitioners in the field [10
], as 3-D printing can have positive effects on nearly every step of the humanitarian supply chain [5
3-D printing can reduce time and money used in the procurement of goods [11
] by reducing the amount of capital required for manufacturing at a given location, allowing distributed manufacturing [13
] or more localized manufacturing to occur [3
]. By manufacturing goods locally at the site of a disaster response, the only materials that need to be shipped to the site of a disaster are the raw materials needed for manufacturing. These raw materials typically take up far less storage and transport space, are far more durable and require far less packaging than the actual goods needed in a disaster response [2
]. It is straight-forward to power the devices with solar photovoltaic technology so that rapid manufacturing can take place on site without reliable power [17
The on-demand fabrication of parts allowed by 3-D printing can also help to reduce the mismatch of what is needed in a crisis and what is supplied. Many relief organizations ship thousands of items that are not required and find they require many that were not shipped. The International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (ICRC), for example, has a set catalog of nearly 10,000 different items that it ships to any given disaster [19
]. 3-D printing cannot only be used to only manufacture the exact designs required but also allow a degree of local customization previously impossible. This customization can take many forms, including optimizing designs to match a user’s geometry [20
] or adapting a part to fit a specific machine [2
]. The use of 3-D printing has already begun to be looked into by Oxfam [21
] and the American Red Cross [22
], as well as in military and space exploration scenarios [24
]. 3-D printing has been found to be useful in addressing humanitarian response needs as diverse as housing [25
], vehicle repair [4
], surgical tools [26
] and malnutrition identification bands [27
Two non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in particular have been exploring the possibilities with 3-D printing—Field Ready [28
] and Refugee Open Ware (ROW) [29
]. Field Ready explores different ways of localizing the manufacturing of items needed in a crisis, especially with digital fabrication methods. Through trials in Haiti, Nepal, Syria and several other countries, they have used 3-D printing to create items for water access, sanitation, health, camp management, shelter, nutrition, protection, education, logistics, telecommunication and early recovery efforts [5
]. ROW brings digital fabrication tools and training to refugees from Syria, so that refugees begin to develop their own supplies and the skills to address the challenges of rebuilding their lives. While much of what ROW has produced are prosthetics, refugees that work with ROW have also developed a variety of products to address other challenges faced by Syrian refugees, including water management and blindness [29
]. Although current 3-D printing technology cannot completely replace traditional logistics, by integrating 3-D printing into a humanitarian response, the larger relief effort can be made much more efficient and the mismatch can be reduced [5
Although the attention on 3-D printing is ever increasing in humanitarian circles, there are currently no 3-D printers designed and manufactured for this market [31
]. All trials and instantiations of 3-D printing for humanitarian efforts have relied upon small desktop 3-D printers, due to their smaller size, lower cost and relative simplicity of use [5
]. While these machines perform relatively consistently in controlled conditions, the conditions in which humanitarian work takes place are typically very unpredictable with regards to the physical environment, public infrastructure, telecommunication abilities and socio-political stability [32
]. Desktop printers are not designed for this context and their already high level of unreliability is exacerbated in these unstable settings [31
]. There is, thus, a definite need for a robust, easily deployable printer designed for adapting to the many contextual challenges associated with humanitarian response work [3
]. This study seeks to provide such a means of rapid manufacturing in the humanitarian disaster context. First, the required capabilities are developed, which provide guidelines for the design elements of a humanitarian 3-D printer, which included, (1) fused filament fabrication (FFF), (2) open source RepRap, (3) modular, (4) separate frame, (5) protected electronics, (6) on-board computing, (7) flexible power supply, and (8) climate control mechanisms. These capabilities are then disclosed here with an open license for the Kijenzi
3-D Printer. The Kijenzi
3-D Printer is then evaluated for rapid part manufacturing, ability to function independently of infrastructure, transportability, ease of use, ability to withstand harsh environments and costs. The results are presented and discussed and conclusions are drawn about the capacity for the Kijenzi
3-D Printer to meet the needs of rapid manufacturing in the humanitarian context.
Humanitarian NGOs currently exploring the capabilities of 3-D printing to solve logistics issues are forced to use desktop 3-D printers that are not suitable solutions to the challenges that they face. By examining existing literature regarding 3-D printing in humanitarian or remote contexts, this study found the need for six key capabilities of a 3-D printer appropriate for these contexts: (1) it must make useful parts; (2) it must function independent of infrastructure; (3) it must be easily transported; (4) it must be easily used; (5) it must be able to withstand harsh environments; and (6) it must be able to be procured for minimal costs. In an effort to build a 3-D printer for humanitarian applications, this study identified eight key design elements to incorporate into a prototype and how they related to the six desired capabilities. This prototype, the Kijenzi printer, was taken to a western Kenya hospital system and tested for two months.
The Kijenzi was found to be able to manufacture the same range of geometries and materials as any other commercially available 3-D printers, while still achieving unique durability and portability due to Kijenzi’s ability to separate into different modules during travel. This modularity also allowed for quick and simplified upgrades or repairs when various modules failed and resulted in a new method of pursuing reliability with 3-D printing. By not viewing the 3-D printer as a singular machine but rather as a part of a system of several 3-D printers and 3-D printer modules, the entire 3-D printer swarm can be optimized to maximize the productivity of all printers and minimize the amount of down-time required for maintenance.
By paying careful attention to protecting the electronics of the system computer with sturdy casing, protective power supply and improved airflow, the electronics of the Kijenzi printer were made suitable for travel and use in adverse environments. The autonomy of the prototype was further improved by integrating an on-board computer and touchscreen into its electronics. However, the Kijenzi printer still requires an improved power sourcing methodology to overcome frequent power outages or contexts in which no grid-power is available. Solar power and battery systems must be integrated into future designs to further decrease the Kijenzi’s reliance on reliable infrastructure.
There still remains a great need to improve the overall usability of the Kijenzi, as nearly all testing of the 3-D printer was conducted by people who were familiar with 3-D printing and a part of the prototype’s development. Special consideration must be given to human-computer interaction as the development of Kijenzi moves forward and several maintenance-related operations (such as calibration) should be automated in order to reduce the level of technical expertise required to use the 3-D printer. Future iterations of the Kijenzi should also include mechanisms to control the environment of the build space, so that quality of the parts produced can be maintained without requiring user expertise to account for changes in the environment.
The Kijenzi represents an early foundation in developing a 3-D printer that is able to meet the capabilities required for rapid manufacturing in a disaster response. The eight elements incorporated into the design of the Kijenzi were all found to be beneficial in achieving the desired capabilities, however, these eight elements alone were found to be insufficient to create a 3-D printer fully ready for deployment. Future work must be done on the Kijenzi design and with our commitment to open-source development, it is hopeful that others will build upon the work presented here so that the technology may reach a level of maturity necessary for effectively addressing the many challenges associated with humanitarian efforts.