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Is 3D Printing the Future of Disaster Relief? 88

Posted by timothy
from the now-slowly-or-later-fast dept.
Daniel_Stuckey writes "Advocates for the technology say that it's only a matter of time before we're shipping raw materials and 3D printers instead of medical supplies to the site of a disaster. 3D printers are already being used in the medical field to create customized tracheal valves, umbilical cord clamps, splints, and even blood vessels. A group in Haiti is already using the umbilical cord clamps to show locals the potential for the technology. And it's only a matter of time before they get deployed in a disaster scenario, according to Thomas Campbell, a Virginia Tech professor and senior fellow at the Atlantic Council."
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Is 3D Printing the Future of Disaster Relief?

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  • you guys are nuts (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 26, 2013 @04:22AM (#45243463)
    Listen to yourselves. This is so delusional I don't even have the energy to explain it to you.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 26, 2013 @04:37AM (#45243493)


      In a real disaster the most important things are going to be food, water and shelter. I can't see 3D printers helping with the first two and I'm not sure I want to wait days for the 3D printer to make me up a tent.. assuming I have the power to run it...

      • You haven't been keeping up with 3d printer developments. It can already print food. It's just a matter of time before it can do so cheaply. It's the next big thing every kitchen will have. Making something for dinner will have a whole new meaning. Example 1: [] Example 2: []
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          What's the point printing food with food?

          • stating the obvious. Who doesn't realize it's better to bring MREs and what have you at this date and time.. But this is being misunderstood on many levels. 1) COST. 3d printing is the future, and most of you know it. If it's as ubiquitous as the microwave, you can bet the machines themselves will be damn cheap, but that's the small point. The big point is related to : 2) SUPPLY. Do you bring a cake to a disaster site, or would it actually be CHEAPER to bring the supplies and 'bake it one site chea
            • Interesting post. Yes, 3D Printing is very promising. But this need correction...

              > What's more expensive, set up a kitchen, or a printer?

              A kitchen is way cheaper to setup and run -- whether feeding a few, or a crowd. Its going to stay that way - kitchen technology is not going to stay static.

              Think of kitchens as food printers that have been improved thousands of years :D If printers *will* be everywhere, kitchens *are* everywhere - they are way more important for us than printers.

              • I agree, it won't stay static, but I'd bet on the food printer in the medium run. I don't see a future kitchen without a food printer to be honest. The power of it alone is like nothing else.. it could remove entire industries and free them up for other things to lead innovation in new ways. just food printing alone eliminates cooking time, horrible fast food, multiple appliances, eventually expense, and definitely food waste.. It adds quality preparation, multitude of recipes, reduced space, perfect nutrit
                • Hmm... All those print-head nozzles, heating elements, food containers, refrigeration requirements, loading of raw materials.

                  And I dread the washing up :D At the very least, dishwashers will need to be totally reinvented. Or you'll have to print out a 'cleaning run' after printing food - which may not clean hygienically enough.

                  No, I think food printing will remain a niche technology; maybe, used in molecular gastronomy. Elements may be incorporated into modern cookery, but Star-Trek like food synthesisers

                  • I don't think it will print strawberries either :) There are a good amount of things it could be early on already that don't require baking or where ingredients do not need to extremely fresh. Anything that can be in powder form, certainly, sugars, proteins, vitamins included. The technology by itself will not only evolve, but food packaging technology will have incentive to evolve with it as it becomes more popular, so do those markets. If we look at the medium term, we're already seeing developments in sy
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Takes a day to "print" food in unmentioned quantities, social media enabled, input is already food. Not sure how this will be better than emergency rations that can be made available in large volume in minutes.

          That is revolutionary, it produces chocolate turtles from molten chocolate, the worlds hunger problems are solved /sarcasm

          Neither of these inventions actually produce food in a way that would help in a disaster unless your disaster fits into /r/firstworldproblems.

        • by Patch86 (1465427) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @06:16AM (#45243731)

          It doesn't print food. It prints with food. If your kitchen printer can make a printed chocolate bar, you already had edible chocolate. If you can print pasta, you already had flour and water and could have made a passable flatbread with nothing more than a mixing bowl and a hot skillet.

          In a disaster zone, the shape of the food is not the priority. Just having calories and vitamins, in any form, will do.

          • The dire circumstances don't last long. The event happens, then there is a disruption in local processes and supply chain. For a few days, a printer might be somewhat beneficial.

            But rapid repair of supply chain is key. Simple calories won't do the job for long. Fresh potable water and cholera prevention comes next, with decent nutrition; calories are only a part of it.

            Printing pasta is simply silly. If you have a disaster, power availability is unlikely. Alchemy still requires magic, something also unavaila

        • by Anonymous Coward

          What a ridiculous argument. This isn't even an article. It's 2 paragraphs which just say that in future, we might be able to print pasta or dough.
          You're wasting your time with this crap.

        • Regarding your first example, it is a machine that makes bread (I guess in various shapes) out of dough, but if you have the dough, a regular bread machine would be more efficient, and a regular oven would be even more efficient as long as you have a human available to kneed the dough. And many kinds of ovens work without electricity.

          Regarding the second example, it is a machine that makes shaped chocolates, which will be poorly tempered compared to molded chocolates, and once again, you have to have the ch

          • Regarding your first example, it is a machine that makes bread (I guess in various shapes) out of dough, but if you have the dough, a regular bread machine would be more efficient, and a regular oven would be even more efficient as long as you have a human available to kneed the dough. And many kinds of ovens work without electricity.

            Just to clarify, I would imagine the first example would be targeted more to specialized pasta shapes. So if you have to have your "bowtie" or "corkscrew" pasta in the middle of a disaster, you could make it, I guess.

            On the other hand, most people in the world don't mind eating dried pasta (which is probably about the quality this thing will put out anyway), and dried pasta stores about as well as the flour you'd need to make the pasta dough anyway. So why not just store your bowtie pasta for the emerge

      • by MickLinux (579158)

        Everybody RUN!!!! Three-D Printers are going to be the future of disaster relief!!!! In a wierd ironic way, our leaders are so messed up, that I think that this headline -- which ends in a questionmark, and thus should be a instant "No", is instead an instant "yes".

    • by Spy Handler (822350) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @04:42AM (#45243515) Homepage Journal

      probably not nuts, just hype / pump-and-dump.

  • To me it seems crazy to spend so much on a 3-D printing costs when there are cheaper, easier solutions. The umbilical chord clamp: Teach people they can just leave the baby attached to the placenta till it dries out, or tie it of with string or anything else they have at hand before cutting the chord.
    • The umbilical chord clamp: Teach people they can just leave the baby attached to the placenta till it dries out, or tie it of with string or anything else they have at hand before cutting the chord.

      AIUI, there is a notable risk of the baby being deprived of oxygen due to blood being diverted to the placenta, not to mention the fact that the plancenta is fragile and presents a vulnerable spot which could result in bleeding out. For the peak of the evolutionary ladder, us humans are pretty defective animals. (Although I think the traditional way of dealing with this was just to tie a knot in the cord itself by hand.)

      • Although I think the traditional way of dealing with this was just to tie a knot in the cord itself by hand.

        Ever touched one? When you were old enough to remember it, I mean.

        They're really thick and gristly; the vein inside is like a nylon rope. It'd be very difficult to knot it tight enough to seal it.

  • In case of an emergency, a 3D printer might be a good thing. If you only need one. I also think that an umbilical cord clamps is the WORST example possible. Boil a clothing pin and you are done. Boil a piece of string and you are done.

    With a disaster you will have different priorities. A bnit like "Hello, do you need a tracheal valves? I am sorry you will die, but Imma gonna save these 5.000 other people first."

    I hate it when people mix up emergency and disaster almost as much as people mixing up heroic an

  • No (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @05:30AM (#45243619) Journal

    Why not? If it is disaster you just want to rip open a bag and have the item you want right there and then.

    Not have to depend on a 3D printer that may or may not have been damaged, materials that may or may not have been contaminated, electricity supply that may or may not work and operator who may or may not be available. You just want to grab a sealed bag and use its contents straight away.

    Furthermore, Haiti only needs to print these clamps because its entire social structure is so corrupt that money that was send to buy these clamps did not arrive and any medical supplies get stolen. How long do you think it will be before 3d printers go missing same as emergency generators have gone missing? The Haiti disaster is NOT the earth quake anymore it is the total corruption of its society and funneling in expensive toys will not fix it.

    Ten to one within a month this 3d printer will have sprouted legs and walked out of the building.

    • Re:No (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Greyfox (87712) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @08:51AM (#45244137) Homepage Journal
      It's a lot easier to hot-drop a printer and extra spools of materials than it would be to drop a crap-load of different supplies which may or may not contain what you need right now. It still has problems, like how you power it and insure it's not damaged when it lands after you shove it out of the back of the plane at 500 feet. If you can get it down to one box and possibly extra spools of material and it prints reasonably quickly it's not a bad idea. I assume the idea is that on the ground you have some idea of what you're going to need immediately, until better supplies arrive. Logistically that's a lot easier than getting a custom package together (Assuming you manage to radio or otherwise communicate out what you need) and making sure it all stays together when you chuck it out of the plane.

      It would take a fair bit of work to get current printers to the point where they'd be useful in that situation, though. You don't necessarily have access to power or a laptop on the ground, so the whole package they'd have to drop would need to be self-contained and have a built-in list of shapes it could print. It would also have to print reasonably quickly and with reasonably good precision.

  • You could burn the boxes they are shipped in for heat. You could rip out the wiring and use it for tourniquets. You could pile them up to make shelter walls.

    Lots of uses.
  • knowledge to get a good result. They are fine for doing 1-off custom parts where you can afford to wait for the result, but they don't make any sense at all in a disaster relief situation where you need many identical items quickly. Take umbilical cord clips as the example- there is no need for customization, no need to wait for a 3D printer to produce them. It is MUCH simpler to send a bunch of them in a bag.

    Where is the printer going to get power in a disaster zone? Now you're talking about flying in

  • Being the hardcore cynic I am (and by the way, I own my own 3D printer), I tend to see news like this as some politician somewhere deciding to apply a new shiny toy to a lingering problem to make it look as if technology is the answer and progress is being made, when those of us who bother to look know that this is just a bandage on a festering wound. First and foremost, it's food, water, medical supplies and shelter that are necessary (and, as a camper, I'd say fresh clothing at times goes a long way). T
    • Today, the answer is no. It would be dumb. Do some statistical analysis, figure out what you're most likely to need, stock as much as possible and have a line on more in case of an emergency.

      Tomorrow, for some value of tomorrow, the answer will be yes. Because 3D printers will be a proven technology and every hospital will have several on hand to make custom-sized artificial limbs and all the kinds of crap discussed in this article.

      In between, the answer will be mostly no.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I spent three years working in refugee camps in Africa. I also spent a year as with the Army at a remote firebase in Afghanistan. FWIW. And I agree that this really is delusional. This is the last thing I would want to have to deal with, for all the reasons cited above.

    On a more general note, this article is Exhibit A of a certain bizarre phenomenon of current tech culture. It seems that many people feel they have to justify the worth of novel innovations by showing that they are a benefit to big-H Hum

    • by TWiTfan (2887093)

      The One Laptop Per Child program struck me in a similar way. The idea of giving laptops to kids who don't have basic stuff like running water and decent medical care always struck me as a pretty bizarre use of resources.

  • Maybe it's just me but I get the sense that 3D printing in the near term is going to be the next dotcom crash. Why? Well, in my own research on the product offerings that are out there, they just don't live up to the hype. Sure the companies are great at showing you tiny trinkets and endless variations of cellphone bumpers. So what? I looked into this to see if printing electronics enclosures on demand would be a viable method of manufacture. Most machines couldn't print anything big enough (exceeding

  • ISO containers of ready-to-use supplies won't require time to produce onsite because they are, wait for it, ready to use.

"If value corrupts then absolute value corrupts absolutely."