The Gambia is a country with little manufacturing capacity, where most goods are imported. At the same time, however, the smallest country in continental Africa is opening up to new technologies, especially in the field of education. The interest in innovations in healthcare and production is also on the rise. Therefore, Prusa Research, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of 3D printers, with the support of the B2B Program of the Czech Development Agency, started a project whose goal is the socially beneficial use of 3D printing in the Gambia, especially in the field of healthcare and education. With the support of CzDA, the third largest 3D printing farm in Africa is being created in the Gambia.
Prusa Research currently distributes its 3D printers to customers in more than 160 countries around the world. Independent institutions such as the 3D Printing Industry Awards or the Make Magazine has repeatedly confirmed the quality of the printers. Due to the exceptional quality of the products and the high level of innovation, the company with its automated 3D printing farm was included in the exposition of the Czech national pavilion at the international exhibition EXPO 2020 in Dubai
In 2021, the company won the “Country For The Future” prize awarded by the Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Czech Republic for the development of a filament with antibacterial properties. The Make3D company is also participating in the testing of this filament, which is planned to be launched on the market in 2022 and plans to use it, for example, for the production of prosthetic aids. “The benefit of 3D printing technology for developing markets lies primarily in the possibility of local decentralized production, whether it is spare parts or individually manufactured medical and educational aid. Compared to competing manufacturers, Original Prusa printers offer a whole range of functionalities that can be very well used in developing markets. This is mainly about easy repairability, including affordable spare parts, the so-called upgradeability, thanks to which it is not necessary to buy the entire printer when launching a new model, but only selected parts,” says project manager Jiří Průša, who as a volunteer in the past participated in cooperation with organizations People in Need or the Caritas Czech Republic to build digital literacy centers in several African countries.
Other indisputable advantages of Original Prusa 3D printers for developing markets include the function of resuming printing after a power failure, which reduces waste (in the form of failed prints) and saves energy. To develop specific applications of 3D printing and the local market, from a sustainability point of view, the key activity is the construction of a competence center and an open workshop, which will be equipped with 3D printers.
“As the majority of goods in The Gambia are imported, 3D printing presents the possibility of creating decentralized small-scale production capacities that have proven effective during the collapse of supply chains caused by a sharp increase in demand for a specific type of goods (e.g. shields at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic) where 3D printing brought a quick and effective solution. Furthermore, 3D printing enables production to be moved closer to customers or users (patients, pupils, etc.) and their easier involvement in the product development process. This brings advantages, especially in the field of healthcare, where the need to transport a patient across a country with poor infrastructure is eliminated. Not to mention that transport can be a financial barrier to access to products and services for many customers,” explains Jiří Průša about the specific advantages of 3D printing for developing markets.
Although the small size of the market is a disadvantage for many entrepreneurs, due to its location, The Gambia has the potential to distribute goods and services to the sub-region. At the same time, its size makes it easier in The Gambia to achieve a systematic impact across the entire country. According to Jiří Průša, the establishment of a Gambian sub-regional 3D printing center will bring the potential for the re-export of know-how and technology and thus further add value to the business sector in the target country.
“During a recent business trip to The Gambia, we held a workshop on assembling printers. As part of the workshop, six printers were assembled, with the fact that thanks to the B2B Program, participants now have the opportunity to get a printer for free for a week or for the duration of their projects. For me, it was a pleasant surprise how the young people took on the task of assembling the printer and how passionate they were. I think that especially for girls who never held a screwdriver or pliers in their hands, building a printer was a great motivation and a way to increase their self-confidence,” adds Jiří Průša.
As part of this work trip, it was also agreed that a seminar focused on the use of 3D printing in medicine will take place in September. As part of that seminar, we plan to connect Czech and Gambian doctors regarding the use of 3D printing. The institution that has effectively adapted 3D printing in medicine in the Gambia, the Medical Research Council Unit The Gambia at London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (MRCG at LSHTM) has shown interest in sharing know-how in this area.
According to the founders of Make3D Silvestre Tkáč and Fatou Juka Darboe, one of the obstacles to the access of especially young people to 3D printing and other technologies is the price. To make 3D printing more accessible, as part of a project supported by the Czech Development Agency, the Make3D company launched the “3D printing for trial” program, which will allow schools, after-school activity clubs, as well as individual interested parties, to test this technology at affordable prices.
Among the key final beneficiaries of the project is the Make3D company, on whose premises the competence center and the open workshop will be built. Make3D has already achieved several successes in the field of 3D printing in The Gambia, including the development and certification of a humerus plate in collaboration with a leading local orthopedic surgeon (Dr. Kebba S. Marenah). Also thanks to this innovation, Make3D reached the finals of the Royal Academy of Engineering Africa Prize 2021. This company will also benefit from the new business opportunities that the socially beneficial use of 3D printing offers. The beneficiaries of the project will also be representatives of the healthcare sector, both local hospitals, and healthcare facilities, as well as relevant authorities (e.g. Medicines Control Agency), for whom targeted workshops and possibly consultations will be prepared. In the field of education, 3D printing is already part of the concept of development of primary, secondary, and higher education. The project will demonstrate the benefits of using 3D printing to representatives of educational institutions and responsible authorities, e.g. using the example of individualized teaching aids (map of the Gambia, etc.). Finally yet importantly, the beneficiaries of the project will also be young Gambians interested in technical education, who will be able to participate in workshops or use the open workshop. Make3D regularly opens up opportunities for young Gambian entrepreneurs and makers in collaboration with the International Trade Center and the United Nations Development Program Acceleration Lab.
The main long-term goal of the project and of Prusa Research a. s. is the development of the use of 3D printing for socially beneficial purposes. For this purpose, an educational video will be created as part of the project and is expected to be used significantly beyond the duration of the project. “We believe that specific examples of the use of 3D printing in developing countries will also become an inspiration for non-profit organizations that will incorporate decentralized production options into their activities and projects,” concludes Jiří Průša. A model of a keychain was prepared for potentially interested parties, especially from the ranks of development cooperation project implementers, which can be used, for example, to mark property acquired in the project instead of using stickers. Following the principles of Prusa Research, this model is freely available to other interested parties on this link.