South Africa

How SA can build on 3D printing

How SA can build on 3D printing
Last year, the Ramdani family in France, became the first in the world to move into a three-dimensionally-printed house.

A team of scientists and architects designed their comfy 95m² home in a studio, with the design programmed into a 3D printer. This was then brought to the site of the home and printed in layers from the floor upwards. After just 54 hours, the Ramdani family had a new four-bedroomed home.

But France isn’t the only country, which has embraced 3D technology to solve its housing issues.

The US has also had several fully- fledged homes printed in the last year - they managed to print these in under a day.

With billions of people globally homeless, the printing of homes has provided an indication of possible solutions 3D printing can provide for some of the world’s biggest problems.

While South Africa isn’t there yet, 3D printing, say experts, could soon provide solutions to the country’s housing crisis.

“Although the possibility for printing fully-fledged houses now exists, it is, unfortunately, not so easy to replicate the technology in different parts of the world,” says technology expert Nico de Kock.

“Yes, it can be done in SA, but we still have to overcome certain challenges to realise this vision. We already have some companies that are experimenting with this idea of printing concrete for this vision in mind in SA.

“However, this technology in itself will not solve our housing crisis, but will contribute towards improved structures and quicker builds.”

This week, the inaugural Innovative Additive Manufacturing Technology Africa Forum and Exhibition, focused on 3D printing.

De Kock, the founder of the forum and exhibition, was one of several tech experts who gathered in Sandton for the forum to discuss the impacts that 3D printing and the technology-driven Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is having globally.

South Africa has made strides in improving social development in the country with the use of 3D printing, particularly in the medical field.

The University of Pretoria recently pioneered the world’s first middle ear transplant, using 3D-printed middle ear bones.

Doctors at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Tshwane completed the groundbreaking surgery on a 35-year-old man who damaged his ear after a horrific car crash. He was able to fully hear again after a successful operation.

“One of the leading industries where 3D printing is being used internationally is in the medical field,” says De Kock.

“From printing custom medical implants to printing models of a patient’s organs to prepare for surgeries, from prosthetics to printing human tissue for fast-tracking the testing of new pharmaceutical products.”

“We have two certified medical implant 3D-printing providers in SA and they are doing excellent work in changing people’s lives. But there is so much more this technology can contribute to the healthcare system as more and more companies are adopting additive manufacturing into their processes.”

Three-dimensional printing has also helped enhance education in the country, he says. “One of the best examples are in the medical field where some hospitals are printing actual patients’ organs to study and prepare the specifics around their surgeries.

“Now during training, doctors can train not on a standard dummy model but on various models 3D printed to represent the different variables.

“3D printed models are also used to explain to the patient what the problem is and how they will fix it. I believe this technology can play a big role in educating children to find innovative solutions to problems, to be creative in their designs, but mostly to prepare them for the future.”

Three-dimensional printing is not new to South Africa, however - it has been adopting the technology for the past 20 years and is one of the countries at the forefront of 3D printing.

“Where we are today is a reflection of us being in this industry for a long time and we are at a point whereby more and more people are starting to understand this technology,” says Marius Vermeulen of MD Aditiv Solutions.

“There are companies in SA that make prosthetics for animals and for human beings. In Bloemfontein, at the Central University of Technology, they make medical implants where they can do a complete facial reconstruction of a person who has cancerous bone growth in their face.

“There is also a company that makes concrete printing. SA has also developed two metal printers.”

Vermeulen believes 3D printing technology will play a big role in the future in job creation and improving the social conditions in the country.

“I think there is definitely the potential for this industry to do that,” says Vermeulen.

“For us to be successful, we need to focus on niche areas and specific manufacturing technologies.”

Petrus de Kock, general manager for research at Brand South Africa, sees the potential for improving socio-economic problems.

“In the era of the so-called 4IR it’s important to understand that such technologies, like additive manufacturing, calls for high-level skills. As the industry expands it opens more opportunities for South Africans with positive social impact.

“This means that skills and human/social development can be positively impacted by the 3D printing technologies. SA is well positioned to be an anchor for the additive manufacturing industry on the African continent.”

Stellenbosch University and the Vaal University of Technology, and several other universities, have already invested in 3D technologies.

“These facilities serve as anchor points for local industry to engage in design, and manufacturing of 3D printed components, products, etc. SA is also a leader in the global 3D printing industry through its innovations in 3D printing for health and medical applications,” says Petrus.

“The capability in this technology can have extremely positive implications for SA in that it positions the country as an advanced/leading economy from a technological development point of view.”

Saturday Star