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3D Printing for Assistive Technologies: Lessons learned from field technology testing

The adopted process, encountered challenges, and achieved outcomes during the field-testing of 3D-printing in Zaatari refugee camp.

3D Printing for Assistive Technologies: Lessons learned from field technology testing.
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Provided by, Mercy Corps | May 20, 2020

About this Report
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) estimates that 71 million people are currently under some form of humanitarian crises. Under these emergency situations, response to the relief and recovery needs must be timely. However, supply logistics and procurement processes of humanitarian organization tend to be complicated because it is often difficult to forecast demand and supply, particularly in emergencies. More so, considering that 60-80% of humanitarian aid money is spent on procurement, strategic efforts to minimize transportation and reordering of frequently needed items can have a significant effect on costs, program implementation, and impact delivery. The emergence of 3D printers as a tool for rapid small-scale manufacturing provides a potential solution to some procurement-related issues by empowering local teams to manufacture needed tools on site and on demand. Generally, 3D printing can reduce time and money used in the procurement of goods by reducing the cost of transporting products and the marginal costs associated with manufacturing of specialty products that may not be readily available in (local) markets. The advantage is more compelling when crisis conditions strain supply chains and introduce unreliability to traditional procurement practices. Although 3D-printers have been used under various contexts, limited empirical evidence and situated fieldwork exists to demonstrate its potential in the humanitarian context.

In the Fall of 2018, the Mercy Corps field team in Jordan articulated the need for 3D-printing technology to support on-site production of assistive tools for their beneficiaries. The most compelling need was identified in one of the largest refugee camps in the world—the Zaatari Refugee Camp. The camp hosts about 80,000 Syrian refugees, many of whom have been living in the camp since 2012. The camp operates like a “functioning city”, with provision of basic social amenities including schools and community-based centers (including Mercy Corps’ Dreamland Center). Based on the demand from the field team, a pilot 3D-printing project was implemented to develop field-level capacity for the use of the technology and generate practical insights for wider recommendation to the humanitarian community.

This project was implemented by Mercy Corps Technology for Development (T4D) Unit, based on generous partnership with Cisco, under a 5-year program aimed at using technology to deliver aid and development assistance faster, better, and to more people.

This report details the adopted process, encountered challenges, and achieved outcomes during the field-testing of 3D-printing in Zaatari refugee camp. The documented insights are intended to provide relevant guidance on the practicalities of adopting and deploying 3D-printing infrastructure in support of humanitarian operations within and beyond Mercy Corps.

This report is expected to be useful at various levels and serve a variety of purposes. As the community of “humanitarian makers” is evolving, with demand for agile response to field needs, the ground-level experience can shape discussions on the extant realities of field teams. The understanding of these realities can enhance capacity building and preparedness for deployment of 3D printing in humanitarian programs. Also, decision-makers such as governments, donors, and program managers can gain insights into the nuances of adopting 3D-printing technology to enhance procurement and supply chains in humanitarian programs and interventions.

About the Author
Julius Adewopo is an Emerging Technology Advisor within Mercy Corps Technology for Development (T4D) Team, and possesses a multi-disciplinary background in agricultural research, digital tool development, and geospatial analytics. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Florida (UF) and his interest includes strategic deployment of digital tools and targeting of innovations to improve livelihoods of vulnerable/marginalized people across diverse geographies. Julius is currently leading Cisco-funded Field Technology Testing Program (FTTP), with focus on supporting diverse field teams to test new and emerging technologies that can enhance their operational efficiency and broaden the impact of programs within and across Countries.

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