TED Conversations

Brendan Dunphy

Chief Innovation Officer, Frost & Sullivan Ltd


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What potential does 3D printing have for developing economies?

Can 3D printing combined with mobile internet access enable developing economies in Africa and elsewhere to create a new manufacturing model that overcomes their deficit in traditional manufacturing infrastructure (roads, transportation, logistics, finance etc.) and constrained development to-date?

Could we be on the verge of a lower cost and way more flexible model ideally suited to under-developed regions where on-site and one-off manufacturing provides scarce spare parts for products manufactured elsewhere and a new generation of local products specifically designed for local needs?


Closing Statement from Brendan Dunphy

I would conclude that there is certainly scope for 3D printing & manufacturing to help fill the local manufacturing hole in many developing markets in Africa and elsewhere but its no panacea. The 'maker movement' has taken root in South Africa, Nigeria and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa so it will be interesting to see how these pioneers develop. There is no shortgae of VC funds seeking opportunities and all it will take is a major local success for the potential to take shape and the media to notice. Some policy makers in Nigeria are keen to build a 'traditional' manufacturing base (as they have seen succesful Asian economies do) and believe this is an essential stepping stone to a brighter economic future. This may be true but I still wonder whether new 'bottom-up' models enabled by 3D printing may provide a complimentary, or even alternative, route to a manufacturing economy "Made in Africa"?

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    May 10 2013: Thanks Prasad. But is this a' show stopper'? Or just another example of technology being put to bad rather than good use? The choice is ours.....
    • May 11 2013: Maybe, maybe not. Sadly thats the world we live in. I followed a course on Rapid Prototyping using 3D printing in college, it was all so fascinating, the possibilities to build a better future are endless. An early 3D printer (not sure of the type though) was demonstrated in Jurassic Park 3 (yeah the movie!), they used it to replicate a velociraptor's vocal column. Though the movie was intended to be science fiction, some aspects were clearly real.
      Once 3D printing is popularized, their demanded increases, cost decreases and CAD technicians become Gods. However, with a dose of corruption and a pinch of money, what'll stop extremists from designing and manufacturing firearms in a basement?
      Unless violence is eradicated from the human genome, it is best if useful, life changing technologies are left under utilised. Should it fall into the wrong hands, 3D printing may suffer the same fate as gunpowder; from fireworks to shotguns.
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        May 11 2013: Yes, technology creates many challenges Prasad as you correctly point-out.But is there an alternative and on balance, do we get more benefits than problems? Its not an easy equation and I for one would prefer that nuclear had never happened but now we are stuck with it and its overbearing threat to our security and life. Maybe with more experience we can become better at controlling our technologies, extracting the goodness and more effectively limiting the dangers. I see no sign that 3D printing will not be adopted because of the fears you raise and I hope this continues to be the case. Thanks for the comments Prasad, they are appreciated!
        • May 11 2013: Brendan, I have given it some thought. I may have to retract my statement of large scale manufacture of firearms using 3D printing, but the possibility still itches at the back of my mind because a few have achieved it. I apologise for being such a pessimist. I sincerely wish a laid back industry such 3D printing takes a big leap forward. 3D printing has never been an option, accessible or even know to the common man, such technology will not only be technically helpful but also be an inspiration to others. Hope a see an organization revolutionize 3D printing, much like Xerox did to photocopying. Heck I would buy one for myself if it becomes cost effective, it's an engineer's dream.

          A technical issue would be sort out the printing methods best suited for on-site application and the materials/resin used in printing, can they be more economical and meet all the requirements?

          Example; when installing pipes, sometimes fittings like elbows and tees are of inferior quality or the required size is not manufactured by the manufacturer. Should 3D printing (printer and materials) be a worthwhile investment, the contractor/fitter can print the required parts in advance and assemble with ease. With that comes the problem of designing the parts and CAD literacy, both can be solved by a web-site or app which provides access to ready to print part designs.
      • May 13 2013: Prasad:: It sounds as though you regret the invention of gunpowder. Think again. Remember that after the fall of the Roman Empire, new forms of "government" developed, Feudalism, which is very similar to the Mafia, literally. People were very poor after that, and ambitious people found that by investing in expensive steel weapons, like swords and armor, he could become a "leader:, with a small gang of well armed followers with horses, swords, and armor, all out of the reach of ordinary people. So they were helpless. Until guns were invented. Like the motto: " God made Man, Colt made them equal." Thomas Jefferson would be scandalized to hear that many modern people can't seem to understand that.

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