In many parts of the world, finding replacement parts for broken equipment is difficult, even for simple parts. In Kinshasa, the largest city in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, laboratory machines needed repairs but couldn’t get new parts quickly enough. These machines test blood and biomedical material, and time was of the essence. Jean Pletinckx, the MSF director of logistics, was in Kinshasa with Doctors Without Borders. In an interview with Inverse, he said could 3D print the missing parts if he had a 3D printer. Instead, he had to order the parts and wait a week for their arrival, delaying the vaccinations of 10.5 million people.
Though not ideal, temporary solutions for broken parts would allow necessary machines to continue running until a better-quality replacement arrives. This is called sustainment. Richard Martukanitz, the head of the Center for Innovative Materials Processing through Direct Digital Deposition at Pennsylvania State University, says many groups are interested in sustainment and its prospects. The Department of Defense is also looking into 3D printing because they have outdated military platforms they can’t find parts for.
In order for groups like Doctors Without Borders to use a 3D printer, they would need a digital description of the part. 3D printing could be revolutionary for healthcare in remote parts of the world. This is one reason the healthcare industry is pursuing additive manufacturing—it could save lives. 3D printing also allows for extreme precision. Experts are conducting extensive research so that 3D printing parts is a reliable process and can be used in remote areas.
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