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3D Printing and DIY Solutions Providing Rapid Response in Disaster Areas

Written by Tristan Rayner, 02-11-2017

In areas where supplies are scarce and infrastructure non-existent, could Field Ready's 3D printed solutions be the future of effective humanitarian aid?

Disaster relief is always a challenge, with humanitarian efforts hampered and people left isolated and displaced. Electricity and fresh water are scarce, while aid can take days or even weeks to arrive in disaster zones via fragmented supply chains. Infrastructure is often non-existent.

Field Ready, a not-for-profit startup, is focused on creating cheap, effective DIY local solutions to common problems around health, water, and sanitation - providing effective disaster relief exactly where and when it's needed .

The team use 3D printing and digital manufacturing on the ground to overcome logistical challenges. This serves as a way of getting around the bottlenecks in the long supply chains when coming from other countries and agencies, and where the needs on the ground aren't always known.

3D printing allows for customised solutions without significant delays, and is backed by the open-source community. By working with the people on the ground to build solutions, skills can be shared and learned. A ripple-effect can spread out from the initial necessity, meaning DIY temporary solutions sometimes turn into permanent tools that can be used by entrepreneurs, and micro-businesses can sprout up and continue serving communities.

This can act as a great complement to other approaches, such as new humanitarian marketplaces designed to offer suitable and timely emergency aid supplies.

Printing Medical Equipment in Nepal

The Field Ready team first offered aid in Haiti and Nepal, post earthquake, validating their approach by working with doctors and nurses to create water filters, oxygen splinters, prosthetic limbs, otsoscopes, tweezers, and more - depending on whatever people on the ground said was what was most needed.

The materials needed for 3D printing are not cheap or readily available in disaster zones, but a small amount of material can be shaped into any key component to rapidly serve needs.

More recently, the team were involved in the disaster following Hurricane Maria, where the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico were decimated. On the Virgin Islands, 40 days after the hurricane, more than eighty per cent of the population remain without electricity, the longest blackout in US history.

A team involving Field Ready arrived at the islands to find fields of solar panels from solar farms either broken or shredded by the thousand. They realised that even if the panels were damaged or no longer connected, they were still producing some power during the day.

Working with locals, who identified the lack of power as a unifying problem, within half a day, panels were hooked up to car batteries to deliver 12-volt power to charge mobile devices to reach relatives or FEMA, or create solar-powered lights at night.

This serves to fill the gap while the grid is reconnected, a task that those on the ground expect to take six months to a year.

The Field Ready organisation is currently working in Haiti, Nepal, Syria, South Sudan, and the US, and is focusing on scaling up their efforts.