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How 3D Printing is Transforming Sub-Saharan Africa

3D PrintingFor many, having a place to call home is something we’ve known since birth, but the reality is that there are many regions around the world that do not have this luxury. In Nigeria, for example, the housing crisis has been one of the major concerns when discussing poverty in this country. It’s estimated that in Nigeria alone there is a shortfall of 17 million housing units. Unfortunately, Nigeria has one of the fastest-growing cities with a relocation of 40,000 every day. With such a high amount of relocation, this is far exceeding the housing units that can be provided for every person. However, there is hope, with 3D printing.

3D Printing

Though it is a relatively new technology, 3D printing has made a difference. Beginning with designing a model on a computer, designers begin “printing” the materials, usually using concrete, to place over a built foundation. Often referred to as additive manufacturing, the whole process essentially starts from scratch laying down thin layers of various materials in liquid/powder form to fuse together. In this case with house building, the 3D printers used are much larger than regular printers as they extrude concrete and/or other materials to build up the 3D model.

Africa’s Urbanization

Because of the lack of development in the house-building industry, the country has been forced to figure out other streamlined methods for these housing structures. The company 14Trees began these operations in Kenya Kalaw, with construction finished at about 12 hours and just under $10,000.

Aside from the lower costs, 3D printing has reduced carbon emissions by 70% compared to traditional building techniques. This is a plus because, in recent years, Africa has suffered tremendously from rapid urbanization. The peak began in 2015 when an estimated 50% of Africa’s population was living in one of 7,627 urban agglomerations. Though this will not reverse all the damage that has already been caused by these agglomerations, 3D printing will help to plan wider access to transportation and more importantly an increase in housing density.

14Trees’ Work in Africa

This group has helped to build more than just residential homes — 14Trees provided a school building for the capital city of Malawi. The managing director of the CDC in Africa, Tenbite Ermiasa, described 14Trees as “cutting-edge technology is going to have a tremendous developmental impact on Malawi and the wider region.” Given the housing crisis, remaining as cost-effective as possible was one of the main draws to incorporating 3D printing. It promises to cut down costs and time by around 15%. With 100 million homeless people today, 14Trees’ project is mostly centered around the construction of single-family housing.

Hope for the People of Africa

3D printing, though it is an advanced technology, is not enough on its own to solve the crisis — it needs workers to help operate it. In addition to helping house millions of citizens in Africa, the 14Trees project also comes with thousands of positions available for full-time employment. Losing jobs is a common fear when integrating new technology, especially with so many bricklayers who rely on their work to survive. However, 14Trees believes it can create more jobs than it might eliminate. Additionally, 14Trees has given the CDC their word that, for employment, they will only be working with skilled job creation for hiring and upskilling locals in job titles such as 3D machine operator to material specialists.

As with any innovative idea, there are benefits and doubts, yet the goal remains the same. In the midst of the housing crisis, countries may benefit from taking a chance on the emerging technologies of the future.

– Isabella Polo
Photo: Flickr