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3D printing: a revolutionary technology in Namibia

Bjorn Wiedow is the co-founder and Deputy Director of the Fabrication Laboratory (FABlab) Design and Technology Centre at the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST).
FABlab has become the local pioneering institution that has operationalized the innovative and cutting edge technology embodied in Namibia’s first-ever Three Dimensional (3D) printing machine.
3D printing or additive manufacturing is a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file.
The technology is based on the principle where a digital model is turned into a solid three-dimensional physical object by adding material layer by layer.
“I am an industrial product designer by trade and my design philosophies of interest are in the realms of human-centred thinking and design for social upliftment. My passion is to be hands-on and I believe that with enough research and commitment, one can truly transform ideas into reality,” Wiedow told the Windhoek Observer.
“As an industrial product designer, the arrival of digital fabrication technologies like 3D printing and the Maker Movement has given me the opportunity to enhance my skills and I am now able to use every machine in the lab efficiently and create almost anything.
“3D printing offers a solution locally to potentially divert exorbitant import costs (for example) in order to prototype ideas and develop new functional products. People across the world are manufacturing their own bicycle frames, prosthetic limbs, and musical instruments all using 3D printing technology.
“The scope for local innovation is massive as the materials used are expanding from plastics to woods and even conducive filaments,” he said.
He says that 3D printing technology can save massive amounts of money in design and production, especially considering the affordability of making prototypes.
Students experimenting with the boundaries of creativity can utilize 3D technology to expand their understanding of the prototypes they wish to fabricate.
Mechanical engineering students at NUST are currently manufacturing gears at the FABlab centre, with some entrepreneurs making toys and drone parts among other creations.
“Our technology makes it cheaper if one wants to manufacture a single remote control unit for an air conditioner compared to, say in South Africa, where they may need between N$5,000 and N$6, 000,” Weider said.
“Here at FABlab, one would be able to make it [the remote control unit] themselves.  We do not make things for people at our facilities, but assist them in their endeavours by creating an enabling environment for them.  That same remote control unit made here could cost up to N$600, so there is a very big difference.
“In Namibia, unfortunately people are not adopting new technology as quickly as it is expanding. Since the first 3D printer in the country arrived at FABlab, we have discovered some underground-garage-based technologists, a maker group as well as a 3D printing company opening at the coast. So, things are blooming, but slowly.
“You would be able to start making models, which we are excited to see, with NUST architecture students currently doing so at the FABlab.
“As for giant scale, you would need a much larger printing bed to get to the level that China occupies in terms of capacity. On the other hand though, you could make a house using the Shopbot at FABlab such as they did in Barcelona, [as a demonstration] making 3D FABhouse at the International Academic Advisory Council (IAAC),” he said.
Wiedow says FABlab is a small-scale laboratory equipped with all the tools necessary to make things that one wanted, needed or that would provide an entrepreneurial venture with a tangible product.
He says the establishment of a lab in Windhoek was the start of Namibia’s very own movement as part of the continents ‘Afrimakers’, looking at solving problems on the continent such as clean water, healthcare and energy and providing African solutions, to solve local challenges.
“With Intellectual Property concerns, everyone has a choice at FABlab despite us wanting more people to be open-sourced and share ideas as it adds communication to global networking and problem solving. If they do not want to, one also has a choice to sign non-disclosure agreements and get to keep the rights to the technology they would have invented.”