Following natural disasters, US Humanitarian Aid Organizations take an outside-in approach to relief. We funnel donations of goods and supplies through US organizations, and create a supply driven economy that results in planes [i] and crates full of wasted goods [ii]. The predominant issue is a broken supply chain, where demand arrives in one spike immediately post disaster, and is met with a full-scale standardized response of goods and services that ignores localized need, may arrive weeks after the initial event, and absorbs 60-80% of aid dollars in logistics costs.[iii] One solution to these shortcomings is 3D printing.
3D printing is a localized, real-time solution to demand for goods and services in disaster areas. Augmented Manufacturing (AM) machines can produce multiple products with a single source of raw materials and no retooling time. [iv] This means that one user on the ground, properly educated, could eliminate the need for multiple shipments of medical, sanitary, or infrastructure supplies. For example, a local community may need replacement parts for crutches or glasses, or they may need umbilical cord ties, or a new water pipe fixture to restore access to fresh water. These products, while immediately useful, would take weeks to arrive in a traditional relief structure, but can be produced immediately and exactly according to demand (with no damage from shipping) using AM. [v]
List of 3D Printing Items as of 2015 from Field Ready.org:
One NGO called “Field Ready” is leading the charge on Humanitarian AM. Field Ready partnered with World Vision (an independent aid organization) in Kathmandu to repair relief cook stoves that had been damaged in shipping. Instead of waiting additional months for a new set of cook stoves, with no guarantee that the replacement stoves would arrive intact, Field Ready provided 3D printers to create replacement parts on site. In addition, they developed an app that scans a broken pipe opening, feeds that information to the 3D printer, and creates a complementary fitted pipe to improve access to water immediately following disaster.[vi]
While private innovation has taken root, US governmental response to disaster has remained inefficient. Large scale efforts to improve the relief supply chain have focused on the front end of the chain (i.e. planning, procurement, and shipping of goods), and the solution has been a shift to cash donations because they are the most flexible form of aid. [vii] This shift to cash enables local governments to help determine supply of goods for their regions, however it does nothing to solve the underlying issue of damages and delays in shipment, or the need for real-time customized response.
The other way the US provides aid is by donating sizeable sums of money to construction or infrastructure projects. The issue is this money goes to US company contracts, and does little to bolster the local economy of the disaster area. This is most recently displayed in Puerto Rico, where 90% of the $5 billion of aid disbursed to date has gone to US based companies, instead of local companies that could benefit from an injection of capital. [viii]
Moving forward, the US must focus on local solutions that include disaster relief education programs, AM machines, and training locals in the use of those machines (see endnote [ix] for an example training document). Disaster relief education should be mandatory and accessible online to both US first responders, and to the general public of the country in need. Many European nations have instituted a requirement for uniform first responder training; if we were to do the same, and include AM training in that module, we could have a highly adaptable response team in each local community. [x] In addition, the new US solution must account for local training in the use of AM machines. As Deloitte explains, “by teaching AM technical skills to locals, and by supplying open-source software and part designs to enable them to continue to produce parts and products on-demand, [US Aid Orgs] can develop a local sustainable talent pool…which in turn encourages economic development.” [xi]
While AM does not solve the immediate need for food supplies or bottled water, it can replace much of our traditional, wasteful aid supply chain. My outstanding question is how can we make AM feasible and cost effective in areas without power or generators? Could Solar work, and if so, how costly might that be?
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[i]: Harvard Business Review, Anisya Thomas and Lynn Fritz, “Disaster Relief, Inc.” November 2006, https://hbr.org/2006/11/disaster-relief-inc, Accessed November 2018
[ii]: The New York Times, Frances Robles, “Containers of Hurricane Donations Found Rotting in a Puerto Rico Parking Lot”, August 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/10/us/puerto-rico-aid.html, Accessed November 2018
[iii]: United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “Shrinking the Supply Chain, Hyperlocal Manufacturing and 3D Printing in Humanitarian Response”, July 2015 https://www.unocha.org/sites/unocha/files/Shrinking%20the%20Supply%20Chain.pdf, Accessed November 2018
[iv]: Deloitte Review, Issue 19, Brenna Sniderman, Vikram Rajan, Parker Baum: “3D opportunity for life: Additive manufacturing takes humanitarian action”, July 2016 https://www2.deloitte.com/insights/us/en/deloitte-review/issue-19/3d-printing-for-humanitarian-action.html, Accessed November 2018
[v]: United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “Shrinking the Supply Chain, Hyperlocal Manufacturing and 3D Printing in Humanitarian Response”, July 2015 https://www.unocha.org/sites/unocha/files/Shrinking%20the%20Supply%20Chain.pdf, Accessed November 2018
[vi]: Humanitarian Innovation Fund, Laura James: “Opportunities and challenges of distributed manufacturing for humanitarian response” https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/4bcea0_044a33fccd7043bea3ae25b9a5e0c198.pdf (pg.4), Accessed November 2018
[vii]: United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “Shrinking the Supply Chain, Hyperlocal Manufacturing and 3D Printing in Humanitarian Response”, July 2015 https://www.unocha.org/sites/unocha/files/Shrinking%20the%20Supply%20Chain.pdf (pg.11), Accessed November 2018
[viii]: NBC News, Nicole Acevido: “Most federal contracts for Puerto Rico recovery go to U.S.-based, not local companies” September 2018 https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/puerto-rico-crisis/most-federal-contracts-puerto-rico-recovery-go-u-s-based-n913401, Accessed November 2018
[ix]: Field Ready, “Shortcutting Supply Chains For Humanitarian Relief” https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/84d105_04cb064461754e05a038c53429aad807.pdf, Accessed November 2018
[x]: NCBI, Ingrassia PL et al. : “Education and training initiatives for crisis management in the European Union: a web-based analysis of available programs” March, 2014 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24642198, Accessed November 2018
[xi]: Deloitte Review, Issue 19, Brenna Sniderman, Vikram Rajan, Parker Baum: “3D opportunity for life: Additive manufacturing takes humanitarian action”, July 2016 https://www2.deloitte.com/insights/us/en/deloitte-review/issue-19/3d-printing-for-humanitarian-action.html, Accessed November 2018