It is revolutionizing manufacturing
In the past, manufacturing was the purview of large, well-capitalised companies who could afford the investment in expensive machinery. The world was divided between the efficiency and low cost associated with “manufacturing” and the small-scale world of handcrafted items.
3D printing is not really printing, per se, but the manufacturing of an item using software that sends information to a machine that creates that thing as per the specifications sent from the computer. This allows those without major capital to create just about anything made in plastic, ceramic or metal alloy.
You don’t have to be a programmer
There are numerous free and fun 3D software websites that allow almost anyone to draw what they want to build. The beauty of 3D printing is that it is accessible. Home designers, builders, teachers, inventors, product developers, game designers and just about anyone with a dream to make something can use websites, which are constantly evolving, to connect with a 3D printer. An example of a super easy to use website is Sketchup.com, where creative types, or anyone who likes to draw, helps you make a 3D model of almost anything including a button, toy, chair, ring, car part, or even a house.
It levels the playing field between advanced and developing economies
Africa is not a centre of well-capitalised manufacturing, and as such, has been limited in what it can produce. With the advent of widely available 3D printers, comes a certain democratisation of manufacturing, leveling the playing field between large and small players.
When one takes away a key advantage of large, well-capitalised manufacturers, it creates space for Africa’s fledgling manufacturing industry to compete, if not for the global market, for its own market. Africa can produce for itself, as it will have a cost advantage in not having to transport items nor pay import duties.
There is a 3D printing movement
Computer software was initially exclusively proprietary, with solid intellectual property protections for its creators. Over time, open source software evolved into public collaboration in the creation of software, which is free to use by anybody. Open source software benefits from the testing and contributions to remove bugs made by a wider community. It is a form of peer editing.
There is a movement among some 3D printing enthusiasts to share software. Websites like Thingiverse.com provide open source software for 3D printing. It is possible that someone has already created the program for the thing you wish to create, and it is available for free.
It creates independence
Now that you understand more about 3D printing, you can see what a game changer it is.
3D printers come in a wide range of sizes with varying features, with starting prices under $1,000 USD to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Africa has shown how it leapfrogs with respect to new technologies with cellular phones and mobile money as two major examples. The adoption of 3D printing is a potential game changer for Africa, as it creates independence, and allows Africa to customise manufacturing for its own markets. One of the many challenges to the continent’s economy is the fragmented nature of its markets. Fifty-four countries, with distinct ways of life, values, languages, etc., makes many business enterprises un-economic owing to the lack of a common market and related lack of economies of scale.
3D printing creates a pathway for undercapitalised entrepreneurs to enter the manufacturing industry.
In short, 3D printing allows Africa to make products for Africa, in Africa.