Brendan Dunphy

Chief Innovation Officer, Frost & Sullivan Ltd


This conversation is closed.

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"?

  • May 27 2013: Quite a bit, it could be a major game changer not only in the developing world but also in the developed world. But it is not going to happen overnight. there will be changes in the software and the materials used to create the parts. they are organic or plastics which are not as strong as metal parts.the software needs to easier to use, more reliable, more flexible.

    today the user needs to understand a fairly high level of math. this is just one thing the software must change.
  • thumb
    May 26 2013: I surely agree with your view that 3Ds helps local needs of under-developed regions. In this world of today, Items specifically tailor-made to respective local requirements are the 'must' to help further develop economic level of
    under-developed area. People in uder-developed area can go with step by step advance of their life, you cannot
    just let them have those modern gadgets popular among developed countries. For example,automobile manufacturers now diversify their products tailored to respective living standards.
  • thumb
    May 25 2013: In my opinion, developing economies have more flexibility than the developed countries with respect to adopting new paradigm shifts, and as 3D printing offers a lower initial cost for manufacturing with acceptable limitations and drawbacks, it will definitely be a game changer and a potential boost for them.
    This TED talk by Alastair Parvin is an example of simplified thinking and a new way for especially emerging countries to do more with less sources.
    • thumb
      May 26 2013: I agree Ozay, I think it could be a game-changer and at least help reduce the manufacturing gap between developed and developing economies. Thanks for the link!
  • May 15 2013: Not if we don't reform copyright law.

    That is the actual goal of the copyright lawyers and govts right now.

    If all designs have to be protected, then all 3D printers have to be registered, and controlled for copyright protection.

    The spare parts angle is the largest i see, but see above.

    The biggest thing is actually the reduction of transportation costs and recycling the waste stream at the same time.
  • thumb
    May 14 2013: I have not thought about it as deeply as you have - I am very ashamed to say. My childhood (and adult hood) fantasy came to life and I thought we are so much closer to the replicators in Star Trek. Sorry

    But now you have shamed me out of my fantasy world :-) (just joking), I think there is huge potential for this application. Although, I am unsure how big the printers will get to? To make the items you are thinking of

    I did think that we may never buy things any more as we will be able to reproduce those small insane parts that wear away and cause us to thrown things out. This would indeed be great for the planet as we will have less waste.
  • May 13 2013: It will trigger a manufacturing boom to the small community, growing the economic pie and putting mpre legs ro balance and support the national economy. It will bring new industries and redefine efficiency and turn everything more efficient. Tool can be printed on the run. Better quality education. Rise of ideas. More creative and productive society.
  • thumb
    May 11 2013: This is a good question. Already the US is trying to shut down the designs for plastic guns. If this technology is a threat to manufacturing as a whole, I wonder if governments will step in and try to circumvent it's growth in the industrial market.

    I would say it will definitly have an impact on the economies of scale, that is, if it increases and industry uses it, there may be a slump in manufacturing world wide.

    If you could manufacture all the replacement parts you need for you devices at home, how would that impact companies that provide DIY products for home improvement, etc?

    As these printers become more affordable and can be used to print more than plastic, I'm sure people will buy them. The big question, I belive will be around patenting designs. The designs are just computer files that can be uploaded and put to work immediately. There will be issues with copyright theft, etc.

    The savings for such devices used on military ships, submarines, space stations, to name a few will be extrodinary. When they can print food and water, we may have to change the way we do business. Perhaps we may have to do away with money all together and develope a different system of trade.

    We may expound on the virtues of a capitalist system of economy but technology is focused to do away with parts of the economic system, espeially, the labor variable. If we can't create an even flow between resource avaliability, population density, and technological advancement, we will run into trouble in the future. Perhaps such devices as the 3d printer should be a wake up call to us all, especially if manufacturing takes them on as the ultimate, manufacturing device. I belive that in the immediate future, design has a place but as people start creating their own designs, we will move away from interdependence on products for personal use.
  • thumb
    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.
      • thumb
        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.
  • thumb
    May 9 2013: Absolutely. It will allow them to skip over the need for the infrastructure simliar to cell phones. But I don't see it becoming a panacea.

    When nano engineering gets going it will replace 3d printing.
    • thumb
      May 9 2013: The beauty of 3D printing (additive manufacturing) is its relative simplicity, flexibility and declining cost coupled with increased quality. Its certainly not a panacea but when there is nothing, or close to nothing, it does look like a big step forward.
  • thumb
    May 9 2013: Well they cannot afford to feed people. I doubt they can afford 3D printers. The issue here is the cost of industry and the impact of dysfunctional governance.
    • thumb
      May 9 2013: Investment in sub-Saharan Africa is at record levels and GDP growth ahead of elsewhere so I don't think lack of investment is the issue. Poor governance is an issue but not universal so I don't see that as the inhibitor. Maybe if it can be proven locally then the money will follow?
  • thumb
    May 23 2013: Interesting to see this article re Many-to-Many Manufacturing based on a review of 'Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, by Chris Anderson' at (registration may be required)
  • May 18 2013: The space economy already making this investment some people dont understand and will miss this because they dont want to take a risk fine by me.
  • thumb
    May 16 2013: Its a key point you raise Morgan. I'd be interested to know more about the state of those discussions: any links you can provide? Thanks in advance, Brendan.
  • thumb
    May 14 2013: Agreed Brian, it would help the sustainability agenda. I like the idea of printing spare parts locally as needed and of course that has a whole different meaning and much greater impact in under-developed economies.
  • May 10 2013: Quite an achievable feat, however some are manufacturing fire arm assemblies by FDM. So there arises the task of regulating the printing of components.
  • Comment deleted

    • thumb
      May 10 2013: I don't think Congress comes into Solidus, its not a political or aid issue but an economic and commercial one (thankfully!).
    • thumb
      May 13 2013: Amen.