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What’s the implication of 3D printers for the World Bank’s mission?

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ImageWhat is the implication of 3D printers on the World Bank’s mission of poverty reduction and boosting of shared prosperity? While figuring out the specifics is likely impossible, we do have a few hints at the possibilities.

3D Printer + Internet = Inclusive Education
The internet search engines we use almost every day have changed our lives, in terms of access to information, knowledge, and much more. But for the visually impaired, this invention has had little impact so far. However, through an innovative application of 3D printers, “search experience” for the visually impaired became possible using a voice-activated, 3D printer-installed, Internet search engine.

While I was back in Japan for a holiday, I learned about this  “Hands on Search” machine produced by Yahoo Japan. The machine activates a search function through voice recognition, then searches for 3D data, and prints the results through a 3D printer. 3D data not found is posted on a Yahoo advertisement in order to crowd-source data collection from the public. The 3D printer-embedded search machine was introduced to the Special Needs Education School for the Visually Impaired, part of the University of Tsukuba in Tokyo as a pilot project in September 2013.  It has provided children with an opportunity to search for any item and touch and learn about that object. Children could learn how the giraffe and dinosaurs look like by touching freshly printed plastic giraffe and dinosaurs. This is just a beginning of various applications of 3D printers, but the 3D printer seems to have already contributed to make a society a little more inclusive and changed the way to teach the visually impaired – a new form of inclusive education.

Learning from a Conference in NYC – “Experience the Future of Technology”

In November 2013, I went to a conference called “ Engadget Expand” in New York City to learn and experience new technologies and how they are transforming the industry, especially the education sector. At the conference, I also had a chance to see how people can make things out of Raspberry Pi, a microcomputer, and how kids and their parents play with littleBits (LEGO-like colorful electronic magnetic pieces) to learn the foundation of electronics in a fun way. Please see my previous blog post for more information.
One of the main exhibitions at the conference was on 3D printers. Almost all of the 20+ 3D printers which Make magazine researched for their “ultimate guide to 3D printing,” were on display. I was so excited to see and experience these various printers, including a $99 pen-type 3D printer called 3Doodler. I complied these 3D printers into a video to share my experience.
Experiencing 3D Printers
from Engadget NYC, November 2013

During the conference, I attended a session on 3D printers and interviewed people on possible applications and skills needed for their use. Here is what I learned:
3D Printer = Rapid Prototyping + Rapid R&D + Rapid Commercialization of Ideas
One presenter at the conference said, “Everyone will be printing their own things that they want in the future.” 3D printers provide an opportunity for low cost Do-it-yourself (DYI) prototyping and R&D. This rapid prototyping ability provides SMEs, entrepreneurs, and makers with an opportunity to compete with large companies. They can create something too small for a big company to prototype and commercialize quickly. (I will feature various examples on this in my next blog post)
3D Printer + Industries and Sectors
There are 2 types of 3D printers - one for individual use and another for commercial. Each has certain applications in various industries and sectors. The main sectors which have benefited from the 3D printer so far are health, arts & crafts, education, toys, manufacturing, and construction. However, applications of the 3D printing will keep on growing as more and more innovative applications emerge.

Home printer:
  • Enable customized and innovative designs for jewelry, watches, etc. through creating molds with 3D printers
  • Custom-made toys for kids
  • More accurate molds of patients’ teeth can be created by the dentists
  • Pregnant women can touch the baby in her belly by printing the baby echo picture using bio-texture technology
  • Save time and money for fixing missing or broken pieces of machines or any other products
  • Enable the visually impaired to sign, and learn math and geometry with a pen-type 3D printer
Commercial printer:
  • Reduce cost and accelerate the production speed through automating manufacturing and construction processes
3D printers = Need for New Skilled Workers -> Online Learning for Skills Development?
According to the sales person for one of the printers, they require the following skillsets: Z-brash Programming, 3D animator, 3D modeling.  I asked the sales person for the 3D printer to see how he learned these skills. He said that he learned Z-brash programming through YouTube. As new technologies emerge, the demand for new technical skills rises. In order to keep up with the speed, learning these skills online could be the easiest, cheapest, and fastest way.
3D Printer + Poverty Reduction + Shared Prosperity
Through my experience at the conference as well as desk research, here is what I think could be the implication of 3D printers for the World Bank’s mission - poverty reduction and shared prosperity. Since the cost of 3D printers is still quite high for the poor, if the community or technical and vocational training institutions could purchase them and make them available for a communal use, more innovation could be generated among the poor to make their lives better. Please provide your own thoughts in the comments section below on what else could be added on the list and see more interesting examples from all over the world.
Poverty Reduction:
  • Save time and cost for fixing things through printing them instead of commuting all the way to buy parts or waiting for someone to come and fix it. The saved time and cost can be used for something else to make individuals’ lives better.
  • Make the individuals’ lives better by printing things that could solve their problems or social problems with the community and the government.
  • Make the society more inclusive especially for the visually impaired.
Shared prosperity:
  • Foster innovation, entrepreneurship and growth of SMEs as 3D printers provide them with opportunities to quickly prototype and commercialize ideas.
  • Foster growth of certain industries, which apply 3D printers into their manufacturing and production process.
  • Contribute to better waste management through recycling used plastic bottles as plastic ink of 3D printers with the Filabot, a machine which converts a plastic bottle to a plastic ink of 3D printers.
The next blog features more concrete examples focusing on the implication of 3D printer for Poverty Reduction and Shared Prosperity. Meanwhile, please share your ideas. 


Saori Imaizumi

Education Specialist (EdTech)

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