December 30, 2015


When disaster strikes, it's time to fly in the 3D printers : 3D printing has been used to mend pipes after the Nepal earthquake, and NGOs believe the technology could radically change the speed and cost of humanitarian aid (Sam Jones, 30 December 2015, The Guardian)

That night Lamb's co-worker, Mark Mellors, spent 45 minutes designing a water fitting on his laptop. The next morning, they drove back to the camp, connected the computer to a 3D printer powered by the battery of their Land Rover - and waited.

After two hours, the printer was done and the fitting ready.

"We put it on the pipe and, hey presto, it worked," says Lamb, who is Field Ready's engineering adviser.

"The hairs on the back of your neck stand up because you realise that you're on to something here. Everybody standing around watching us - the water engineers, the local partner, the chap from Oxfam, the local social committee - were just watching, going, 'This makes sense. This is what we need'."

Not only had Lamb and Mellors solved the problem of the leaking pipes, they had also proved that 3D printers can be used on the ground in disaster relief.

"We were thrilled because it's one of our proofs of concept: this idea of making useful things in camps for internally displaced people [IDP] is fundamental," says Lamb.

"It was the first time - at least that we're aware of - that this has been done: that you 3D print a sort of proper water fitting, rather than having to make an improvised one, in an IDP camp.

"It's that process of identifying the need, doing the design and then printing it out and fitting it out - and doing all that in less than 12 hours in a remote area. It's a pretty important step forward, I think, for the use of this kind of technology."

Although some NGOs are already using 3D technology, Lamb hopes that the big aid agencies will one day deploy 3D printers with their emergency response teams. The hardware, he argues, is portable, cheap - the printer Field Ready used in Bahrabise cost about $600 (£400) - and can simplify logistics and supply chains. What's more, 3D printing is only the first step: Lamb can foresee a time when technology will dramatically reduce the amount of kit that aid agencies need to take into disaster areas.

Posted by at December 30, 2015 5:03 PM