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Charity and university expert develop 3D printing solutions to global poverty

Press Release   •   Feb 24, 2016 16:15 GMT

Practical Action has joined forces with a 3D printing expert from De Montfort University Leicester to test how the technology could help some of the world’s poorest people.

The international development charity is working with Dr Timothy Whitehead to use 3D printing techniques to create vital water purification technology. It is also being used to create 3D maps, which will help save people from deadly landslides in Peru, South America.

Practical Action uses technology to challenge poverty. The charity believes that 3D printers have enormous potential to benefit the developing world and so invited Dr Whitehead to their office in Lima, Peru, to demonstrate how 3D printing could help people living there.

Lima has areas of poverty and high rates of violent crime, with many people living under the threat of landslides triggered by heavy rain.

Dr Whitehead said: “I was expecting to print engineering components, but one of the first things Practical Action wanted me to help with was to print a 3D topographical map of the areas of poverty in Lima. This showed, in clear detail, how landslides were a real danger and what would happen in their inevitable event.

“We were then able to use this to explain, across a language barrier, to people living there why we needed to make changes, to have safety measures put in place.

“Traditional manufacturing is quite limited: you need clear designs and production lines. With 3D printing we can be more creative; there’s no way traditional manufacturing could so easily have produced that map.”

Dr Whitehead was also able to test print components for water purification systems and weather sensing equipment which could in future be used to improve survival rates in the area.

The Lima visit was part of an initial collaboration between Dr Whitehead and Practical Action which will last until early June. At this point, the charity will look at how the technology could be used in other countries.

Paul Smith Lomas, Practical Action Chief Executive, said: “We’re really excited to be collaborating with De Montfort University. 3D printing could be a disruptive technology, leap-frogging traditional design and manufacturing processes. It could mean that people in developing countries are able to access new products faster and cheaper than they would in the past, making their lives better.

“You could call it a sort of democratisation of technology. In Practical Action we call it “Technology Justice”, and it is something we want to encourage more of.

Practical Action uses technology to challenge poverty in developing countries.

Our strength is our approach. We find out what people are doing and help them to do it better. Through technology we enable poor communities to build on their skills and knowledge to produce sustainable and practical solutions - transforming their lives forever and protecting the world around them.

By doing this each year we help around a million people break out of the cycle of poverty ... for good. 

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