3D Printed Prosthetics Manufacturing Workshop – Tanzania

This week I spoke to Gilbert Cameron, a former design and technology teacher from Scotland. I learnt about his journey so far in establishing a 3D printed prosthetics manufacturing workshop using 3D printing and scanning at the Lake Victoria Disability Centre (LVDC) in Tanzania. A centre which provides vocational and life skills to children with disabilities.

After visiting his daughter who was volunteering at the centre in 2008, Gilbert spoke with the head of LVDC at the time who expressed an interest in establishing a 3D printed prosthetics manufacturing workshop at the centre. Gilbert also visited a local workshop making wooden prosthetics using traditional skills and materials. This out-dated technology produced heavy and awkward prosthetics and Gilbert recognised the impact that a 3D printed prosthetics could have. With a disability survey conducted in 2008, it was found that roughly 7.8% of the 5 million people living in the Mara and neighbouring regions of Tanzania could be positively impacted by this project.

With the need and demand firmly established within the region, Gilbert followed up on his visit and in 2015 and took a bag full of prosthetic arms and legs, acquired from the Smart Centre in Edinburgh. As a result I’m sure it could now be said that customs officers at Edinburgh airport have seen it all!

The arrival of these prosthetics in Tanzania in 2015 allowed for the creation of an orthopaedics ward and the start of the LVDC Scotland charity. The initially interest in the project lead to LVDC Scotland applying to the Scottish Government for a grant. With a keen interest in the idea of 3D printing the Scottish government awarded LVDC Scotland a £10,000 grant to conduct a feasibility study in order to research the need for a 3D printing unit within the orthopedics ward. This led to the first 3D printer being brought over to Tanzania (again stuffed into a suitcase). Several 3D printed prosthetics were placed on top of the machine so as provide customs officers with an explanation!

Once there, printing began, however, the wildness of Tanzania was less forgiving than the cosy 3D printing lab situated in Scotland. Common power outages regularly affect the Tanzanian grid and subsequently the 3D printing process. The project also faced challenges when sending equipment over from the UK, on one occasion several 3D printer parts failed to arrive. Luckily the filament reels sent by us at 3D print Works made it to the LVDC centre and into the 3D manufacturing workshop.

After a successful feasibility study, a further £60,000 to be paid over a 3 year period was secured. Currently in year 1, the workshop has employed 2 prosthetic technologists from the Tanzania Training Centre for Orthopaedic Technologists (TATCOT). Gilbert expressed great praise for the work they have done, designing and developing new prosthetics. Here we can see  10 year old Amos with one of these simple designs which allows him to hold a pencil and feed himself, Amos is now attending school.

With the project underway the team have established a workshop with portable scanning capabilities. This allows them to visit the surrounding people and communities. Once the scans are taken the team returns to the workshop and printing gets underway. In year 2 they plan to continue developing prosthetic hands and move onto producing cosmetic covers for traditionally made legs. In year 3 the team has set themselves the goal of manufacturing 3D printed leg sockets, however with this technology still unproven they have set themselves a challenging task.

Many people visit Tanzania for the imposing wildlife migrations or to climb the tallest mountain in Africa, ‘Kilimanjaro’.  Gilbert visits because of his passion for helping people which is truly inspiring as is the work being carried out by LVDC Scotland. We at 3D Print Works are proud to have provided a contribution to LVDC Scotland and encourage you to do the same! Click HERE to donate to the 3D printed prosthetics manufacturing workshop in Tanzania.

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