3D Printing Gives Boy a New Arm in Sudan

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

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3D printing is rapidly going mainstream and is now starting to make a big impact in health care. One innovative solution is using the technology to manufacture artificial arms for amputees harmed by war in Africa.

While large-scale manufacturers use the machines to fabricate products and parts, from aircraft components to furniture, it is the smaller-scale use of 3D printing machines that has been getting many working in development excited.

3D printing ( usually involves a desktop-sized fabrication machine that builds a three-dimensional object following instructions from a digital computer file. It is an additive process, in which material is laid down in successive layers to create an object. The technology has been around since the 1980s but only became affordable for the general public in the past five years. Typically, 3D printers are used to make prototypes — for example architectural models or machine parts — or to manufacture one-off objects without the need to turn to mass production methods. But the technology is evolving quickly and, according to The Guardian, “20% of the output of 3D printers is now final products rather than prototypes.”

For international development, 3D printing offers the potential to close the gap between what is available in developed and developing countries. Just as the Internet has closed the knowledge gap, and enabled people around the world to access news and knowledge at the same time, so 3D printing could make it possible for technological innovations to be available everywhere. Just upload the digital plans for an object, and people can download them and print the item, wherever they are.

Some of the more enthusiastic proponents of 3D manufacturing see it as a game-changer in access to technology. They argue it could eliminate material want and place the power of manufacturing in the hands of billions, in the same way the rapid proliferation of mobile phones and the Internet transformed access to information. That is the dreamers’ dream, but it is closer than many think.

The conflict in the new nation of South Sudan, which separated from the Republic of the Sudan in 2011, continues and involves UN peacekeeping forces ( The violence has killed over 10,000 (International Crisis Group) and injured many more, ruining lives through lost limbs and capabilities. One young boy, Daniel Omar, 16, lost both his hands while trying to use a tree trunk to shield himself from an exploding bomb. Losing his hands was devastating enough, but he was also so depressed at not being of full use to his family that he wished he had died that day.

He is not alone in being harmed by the conflict. In total, an estimated 50,000 people in South Sudan are physically disabled, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Prosthetic limbs are very expensive and so far are not a priority for medical services in the country. Saving lives is the priority, with rehabilitation an expensive luxury.

This is where Not Impossible Labs (, based in Los Angeles, California, came in. The non-profit startup founded by Mick Ebeling specializes in “crowd-sourcing to crowd-solve previously insurmountable healthcare issues.” The solutions are then made public on the Internet and explained in online media to help innovators either replicate the solutions or be inspired to come up with their own ideas.

The lab’s ingenious solutions include BrainWriter – a way to draw using brainwaves and a computer mouse that can allow disabled artists to carry on creating. Not Impossible Labs also developed a high-tech cane for the blind that draws on sonar technology and a laser to navigate the terrain and foresee upcoming obstacles.

Emotionally touched after learning about Daniel’s plight, Ebeling decided to act.
“I’ve got three little boys,” Ebeling told The Guardian newspaper. “It was hard for me to read a story about a young boy who had lost his arms.”

Project Daniel (!project-daniel/c1imu) set out to manufacture artificial hands for Daniel without him having to leave his country and his family. Daniel was living between the Yida refugee camp in South Sudan and his home in the Nuba Mountains.

A team from Not Impossible Labs set up the 3D printing lab in the Nuba Mountains and trained and supervised the local team to print two prosthetic arms. The design for the arm was done in the U.S. at its headquarters in Venice, California and is available for free and is open source ( A “dream team of innovators” were assembled – including the South African inventor of the Robohand (, an Australian MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) neuroscientist and a 3D printing company owner from Northern California – to crowd-solve the challenge of making a 3D-printable prostheses. A precision engineering company, Precipart (, and Intel were also drafted in to support the project.

Not Impossible believe the spirit behind the project will be globally transformative.

“We are on the precipice of a can do maker community that is reaching critical mass,” said Elliot V. Kotek, Not Impossible’s content chief and co-founder. “There is no shortage of knowledge, and we are linking the brightest technical minds and creative problem-solvers around the globe. Project Daniel is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.”

Daniel’s new artificial arm and hand took a 3D printer several days to make and cost around US $100.

In November 2013, Ebeling travelled to South Sudan with all the equipment required to “print” Daniel a new arm: 3D printers, spools of plastic and cables.

The plastic arm printed by the 3D printer works by allowing the wearer to flex what remains of their arm to pull various cables that act as ligaments, like in a real limb. When the user flexes and bends, the cables pull back and in turn make the fingers close and open.

It is not a solution for every amputee. “With the technology we currently have it’s hard to help people with no arm left,” said Kotek. “There needs to be at least a little bit of a stump.”

Shy at first, once Daniel saw the arm, he was transformed. “It was a pretty amazing thing to see this boy come out of his shell,” said Ebeling. “Getting Daniel to feed himself was a highlight that was right up there with watching my kids being born.”

Even more impressive has been the quick adoption of the technology by the local doctor, Dr. Tom Catena, who performs all the amputations in the area.

With two 3D printing machines left behind by Ebeling, Dr. Catena has been able to print a prosthetic arm a week.

The machines mostly work at night when it is cool. The printer parts are then assembled by eight local people trained to operate the machines and build the arms.

But how do they ensure, over time, this 21st-century technology doesn’t just fall into disrepair and neglect as has been seen time and again with other attempts at technology transfer? Weekly phone calls are made to check on the project and the plastic used to make the arms is sent directly from Not Impossible Labs.

And then there is community buy-in.

“At first these kids wanted arms that matched their skin tone, because they didn’t want to stand out,” said Kotek.

But in time the youths have been decorating the arms in many colors and customizing them. And the arms have been given a name: the Daniel Arm.


1) The pioneer behind developing 3D technology has been the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Fab Labs based in the United States. It has been running experimental “Fab Labs” across the global South for the past few years, experimenting with ways to apply this technology to the challenges of development and to use this technology to turn people on to the power of technology to solve problems. These experiments have explored how a 3D printer could print everything a small community could require but would otherwise be expensive or difficult to purchase through normal markets. Fab Lab is the educational outreach component of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA), an extension of its research into digital fabrication and computation. Website:

2) 3D Systems: 3D Systems envisions a future in which 3D printing will return humanity to a heritage of personalized, localized craftsmanship and improve quality of life. A new industrial revolution changing the human experience from health care to entertainment. Website:

3) MakerBot: MakerBot makes a range of 3D printers for consumers. Website:

4) Stratasys: Stratasys manufactures 3D printing equipment and materials that create physical objects directly from digital data. Its systems range from affordable desktop 3D printers to large, advanced 3D production systems, making 3D printing more accessible than ever. Website:

5)  3D Printing and Technology Fund: The Fund seeks long term capital appreciation through focused investment in global 3D printing and technology companies. Website:

6) Digital Revolution: An Immersive Exhibition of Art, Design, Film, Music and Video Games: Running from July to September 2014 at the Barbican Centre in London, UK. Website:

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3D Home Printing Landmark: 10 Houses in a Day

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

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The global South is experiencing urban growth on a scale unprecedented in human history, far outstripping the great urbanization wave that swept across Europe and North America during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Faced with growth at this pace, governments – both national and local – often become overwhelmed by the rate of change and find it difficult to cope. One of the most common complaints urban-dwellers around the world have is about their living conditions. Even in developed countries, creating enough housing to match demand can be a struggle.

Quality housing is crucial to human development and quality of life. Adequate living space and access to running water make a significant contribution to people’s health and well-being. Despite this obvious conclusion, millions of urban dwellers live in squalid conditions with poor sanitation, overcrowding, crime, pollution, noise and a general feeling of insecurity. Insecure people find it difficult to access stable jobs and suffer stigma for living in poor-quality neighbourhoods.

But many initiatives are seeking to speed up the pace of home construction.

These include the Moladi construction system from South Africa ( Moladi uses moulds to assemble houses, so that the building skills required are minimal and easily learned. Built to a template that has been tested for structural soundness and using a design that produces a high-quality home both in structure and appearance, the Moladi system seeks to provide an alternative to makeshift homes that are structurally unsound and vulnerable to fires, earthquakes and other natural disasters.

Another clever approach is a home and dwelling assembly system developed by architect Teddy Cruz ( ( that allows slum dwellers to gradually construct a building in stages as they can afford it. It is earthquake-safe and fire resistant.

Another approach turns to the fast-growing technology of 3D printing ( This technology has gone mainstream in the past five years in the form of desktop-sized 3D printers, or fabricators as they are sometimes called. The machines assemble objects in an additive fashion – layer-by-layer – using digital designs from a computer.

3D printers can make a complex object without having to resort to mass manufacturing. An accurate, one-off object can be created with the same precision as a machined object. Architects, for example, use the technology to make 3D models of their designs. And now a company in China is hoping to use 3D printers to make houses.

The WinSun Decoration Design Engineering Co. ( 3D printed 10 houses in 24 hours in Shanghai’s Qinpu district, reported Business Insider.

This landmark achievement was accomplished with a giant printer – 152 meters long, 10 meters wide, and 6 meters high – which manufactured walls for the house from a mix of construction waste and cement.

As a sign of the confidence the company has in the innovative construction technique, it built its own 10,000 square meter headquarters in one month using the same materials. The company’s chief executive officer, Ma Yihe, is also the inventor of the technique. It is a very flexible technology and the material can be tinted different colors according to the customer’s wishes. It is cheap to work with and is also less draining on environmental resources than traditional building materials.

The 10 houses consist of two concrete side supporting walls with glass panels at the front and back and with a triangle roof. They will be used as offices at a high-tech industrial park in Shanghai. The company has big plans, hoping to use the technology to build more homes – and even skyscrapers.

Competition is heating up as people around the world seek to perfect 3D technology to print houses to meet the growing demand for dwellings.

In The Netherlands, Dutch architectural firm Dus Architects (  commissioned the development of a leviathan 3D printer so it could print entire rooms. Modeled on a much smaller home desktop version, the Ultimaker (, this printer creates whole rooms that are then assembled into custom-built houses.

The 6-meter high KamerMaker (, or “room builder”, is being used in Amsterdam to build a full-size house.

The project is called “3D Print Canal House” ( The printer assembles the rooms individually, and then they are snapped together to make a house. The internal structure of the building blocks are in a honey-comb pattern, which is then filled with a foam that becomes as hard as concrete.

“For the first time in history, over half of the world’s population is living in cities,” Dus Architects founder Hans Vermeulen told “We need a rapid building technique to keep up the pace with the growth of the megacities. And we think 3D printing can be that technique.

“We bought a container from the Internet and we transformed it into one of the biggest printers on this planet.”

This technology can also easily use recycled waste materials and lower the pollution and cost of moving building materials around. The Dus Architects prototype house is expected to take three years to complete (so, still in its early development phase) and will look like a typical Dutch canal house with a pointy, gabled roof (

One of the pioneering advocates for using 3D technology to address the global South’s urbanization and housing challenge has been Larry Sass, director of the Digital Design Fabrication Group ( at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Three technologies have been developed at MIT since the 1950s that have made digital fabrication possible – computer numerical control (CNC), which enables computers to control machines; computer-aided design software in the 1960s; and 3D printing in the 1980s to make solid models using digital designs.

Sass told MIT’s Spectrum newsletter ( that large-scale 3D printing would mean “buildings will rise faster, use fewer resources, cost less, and be more delightful to the eye than ever before.”

He envisions a future in which architects will be able to send their designs by computer to a 3D printer and it will then be able to start “printing” the building or a house accurately according to the original designs.

The conventional way of making buildings has been stuck in the same approach since the 1800s, according to Sass. It uses highly skilled and extensive labour, it is slow and plagued by weather disruptions and urban congestion, and it is expensive, often using materials brought from far away.

Digitally fabricating buildings takes a radically different approach: the building is made in a series of precision-cut, interlocking parts and then assembled on site like a jigsaw puzzle.

“It’s the right delivery system for the developing world, because the developing world doesn’t have an infrastructure of tools, air guns, saws and power,” Sass said.

“Design and high-quality construction is mostly for the rich,” added Sass, who was raised in Harlem, a New York City neighbourhood with high poverty levels. “I’ve always wanted to figure out how to bring design choice and architectural delight to the poor.”


1) 3D Printing Technologies: A website exploring the development of 3D technology. Website:

2) Sweet Home 3D: An open source, free interior design software application that allows users to draw the plan of their house, arrange furniture and view in 3D. Website:

3) A video showing how it was done is here:

4) 3-D Printed Buildings for A Developing World from MIT’s Spectrum. Website:

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© David South Consulting 2022

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New 3D Technology Makes Innovation Breakthrough and Puts Mind over Matter

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions


Revolutions in technology are placing more and more power into the hands of the individual, and 3D printing and fabrication machines are opening a whole new chapter.

These devices come in many forms, but they all do one thing: they can manufacture pretty well any three-dimensional object on the spot, from digital plans. These machines come in many sizes, from factory scale to smaller, home versions which are no bigger than personal computer printers, such as the well-known MakerBot Replicator 2 (

3D printers introduce sophisticated precision manufacturing to the individual much in the same way the personal computer and the Internet have empowered people to make their own software, build websites and start online businesses.

A pioneering educational innovation in Chile is taking the technology even further, in a way that is truly mind-blowing. Thinker Thing ( promises to transform the way people interact with this new technology. “We have built a machine that will allow you to make real objects with your mind,” its website states.

And, it wants to do more: “We want to use our invention to light a fire of inspiration throughout the remote and often disadvantaged schools of South America and we can do this with your help.”

Thinker Thing allows the user to wear a headset and communicate through brain waves to the 3D printer. The printer then manufactures a three-dimensional model of the thoughts. These can be squiggly shapes or even, it is hoped, more sophisticated forms.

Thinker Thing’s Chilean Chief Technology Officer is George Laskowsky. Laskowsky has a games console engineering background and was a research assistant in charge of high-energy particle experiments.

The Chilean government is funding this experiment to help children to improve their creative skills. The idea is to use the technology to eliminate the technical side of creating objects and focus the effort on the creative thought process. Thinker Thing was selected from more than 1,400 applicants to participate in the prestigious global accelerator program, “Start Up Chile” ( Start-Up Chile is a program created by the Chilean government that seeks to attract early-stage high potential entrepreneurs to develop startups using Chile as a platform to go global, in line with the national goal of converting Chile into the innovation and entrepreneurship hub of Latin America.

Based in Santiago, Chile, Laskowsky is seeking support for further development on IndieGoGo (, an international crowdfunding platform for projects.

The plan is to tour Thinker Thing all around Chile and use the science, art and engineering principles behind the invention to help very young children in remote rural regions to learn through understanding the project. Its creators also hope to take the exhibition – called the Monster Dreamer School Outreach Program and the Fantastical Mind Creatures of Chile Exhibition – on the road and show it in major global cities.

The children are being asked to imagine fantastical creatures that will then be made into 3D forms with the machine. The idea is to then sell these 3D creatures to supporters of the project to help fund the initiative. As well, these creatures will go on display in an exhibition to help educate visitors about Chile’s children and their communities.

To increase interest, exclusive photographic prints and limited edition figurines are available of the creatures the children create.

The prototype uses what is called an EmotivEPOC, basically a wireless neuroheadset collecting signals from the user’s brain. In operation, the software allows users to make 3D models with the power of thought which are then made into a plastic model using a MakerBot Industries Replicator.

This is experimental stuff and neurotechnology is in its early stages. It can detect simple emotions such as excitement or boredom and cognitive thoughts such as push and pull. Despite being in its early stages, the technology can evolve a 3D object over a number of steps by detecting the user’s emotional response to design changes.

Thinker Thing has been working alongside neuroscientists to understand the workings of the brain. Amazingly, in one experiment they were able to get a person to control the leg of a cockroach using their own thoughts. Called the Salt Shaker (, it is an experimental kit for young students and hobbyists that allows them to take control of a biological limb quickly and simply.

The 3D printing revolution is energizing for large and small-scale manufacturers alike. It means a business can now engage in precision manufacturing of products and spare parts quickly. It means it is possible to download from the Internet plans for new innovations and manufacture them within minutes. It also means communities off the mainstream supply line can make what they need and repair machinery without needing to wait weeks or months for items to be shipped from afar or spend vast sums on shipping costs.

The Fab Labs project based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has been at the forefront of pioneering and prototyping this technology, including running testing labs across the global South to prove the relevance of the technology to the world’s poorest communities.

As of 2012, these include Fab Lab Afghanistan (, in Chile the FabLab Santiago (www.designlab.uai/fablab), Fab Lab Egypt (, in Colombia the FabLab Medellin (, in Ghana the Takoradi Technical Institute (, in India at various locations, Indonesia’s HONFablab (, ARO FabLab Kenya West (, and in Peru, South Africa, Suriname and many more are in the works (

If Thinker Thing has its way, maybe people in the future will say “I think, therefore I print!”

Published: August 2013


1) Stratasys: The company manufactures 3D printers and materials that create prototypes and manufactured goods directly from 3D CAD files or other 3D content. Stratasys systems are used by manufacturers to create models and prototypes to aid in the new product design process. And they are becoming widely used for production of finished goods in low-volume manufacturing. Systems range from affordable desktop 3D printers to large production systems for direct digital manufacturing. Website:

2) 3D Systems: 3D Systems is a leading provider of 3D content-to-print solutions including 3D printers, print materials and on-demand custom parts services for professionals and consumers alike. Website:

ExOne: With decades of manufacturing experience and significant investment in research and product development, ExOne has pioneered the evolution of nontraditional manufacturing. This investment has yielded a new generation of rapid production technology in the field of additive manufacturing as well as advanced micromachining processes. Website:

FabCentral: This site supports a digital fabrication facility and global network of field fab labs managed by MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms. Website:

Maker Shed: 3D Printing and Fabrication:  An outstanding resource for getting all you need to understand 3D printing and manufacturing, with 3D printers, supplies, Whether you want to print out physical objects or machine something from plastic, wood, or other materials, we have the tools and accessories you need. Website:

EMachineShop: The first and leading machine shop designed from the start for the Internet, eMachineShop’s mission is to provide easy, convenient and low-cost fabrication of custom parts via the web. Website:

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

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Southern Innovator Issue 1:

Southern Innovator Issue 2:

Southern Innovator Issue 3:

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