Two years ago, the first 3D printer arrived in Kenya at the Nairobi FabLab. Since then, the trend has caught on to the point of people owning personal printers. I know the world is years ahead in terms of 3D printing but Africa is full of surprises!
In December 2014 I made a presentation at a conference on Footwear Health Tech in Eindhoven, Netherlands. This was due to ‘Happy Feet’: a project to provide footwear for people with foot deformities. During the conference, 3D printing featured prominently as the value of the custom fit and personalization of shoes has become clear. During my presentation, I mentioned that as a result of my research, I had concluded that it wasn’t yet time for meaningful and sustainable 3D printing in Kenya, especially for what I was trying to do on such a large scale. A woman in the audience challenged me because 3D printing (printers and filament) have become very cheap. I answered that the affordability of the printers was relative and the Kenyan context is a different scene altogether. But she didn’t accept my answer, continuing to ask why it wasn’t affordable. I was surprised by her persistence and this got me thinking of a way of making 3D printing affordable in an African context.
This is not a new quest for me. I have been thinking and trying to answer this very question for a while now because my project relies heavily on 3D printing (plus it’s one of my most favorite tools to be honest). I had thought about how to recycle certain plastic waste materials to extrude plastic filament. From my travels, I saw that there’s already so much going on out there in this field. And I am happy to say that I shall be setting up our own extruder in January next year here in Nairobi.
And then there’s brilliant African ingenuity such as this fellow right here who has built a 3D printer out of waste from a scrap yard. Such stories give me renewed hope in the maker culture in Africa. Our circumstances give us new ways of thinking and I am looking forward to what this amazing continent has to offer. Unique situations call for unique solutions so watch this space in the years to come! I can assure you that you will not be disappointed.
So why not do the same in Kenya? Challenge accepted! I have been in touch with people who are willing to help me set up such an initiative where we will be locally producing 3D printers from recycled e-waste. We will be doing this in parallel with the filament-making industry so the two will support each other. The goal is to alleviate poverty, make 3D printing more reachable and affordable to makers in Kenya as well as hopefully make high quality products that could be sold to the international market. So you can imagine that I have big plans for the year that is to come. So do stay tuned!