A field trial of 3D Printing to assess its potential for improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the humanitarian response

Organisation: Griffith University

Partners: The Medical Humanitarian Air Service, Red R (Australia), HK Logistics, Oxfam

Location: Kenya, and other African countries to be agreed

Type of grant: Core – invention

Status: Completed


3D printing has the potential to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the humanitarian logistic (HL) response by reducing lead times, avoiding nugatory ‘just in case’ transport and warehousing, and using postponement techniques to manufacture locally to meet an identified need.

The aim of the proposed field research is, therefore, to test and validate the above theoretical benefits and associated training/education requirements in a variety of field settings, and to identify any unanticipated benefits and challenges.

How does the innovation build on and improve existing humanitarian practice?

Against the background of a global rise in the number of people affected by disasters/complex emergencies, it has been estimated that 60-80% of the income of aid agencies is spent on logistics[1] (defined as the procurement, transport, warehousing and distribution of food, water, materials and equipment, etc).

This innovation is aimed at improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the logistic processes by:

  • Avoidance of the transport and warehousing of items that are not subsequently required.
  • Local manufacture of items to meet an identified need thereby avoiding procurement and transport delays.
  • Use of a single source material that does not require special packaging and/or handling, has a high mass:volume ratio, and from which multiple items can be produced.
  • Production of bespoke items that are not readily available as spare parts.
  • Introduction of operational benefits (such as in line filtration) which cannot easily be created using mass production (injection moulding) techniques.

Thus, while 3D printing is not an innovation of itself, this technology has yet to be used in a humanitarian programme setting.

What materials or research outputs are likely to be produced?’

The results will be disseminated:

a.         Within the Humanitarian Logistics community at large via the Humanitarian Logistics Association (HLA) which is the professional body for humanitarian logisticians.

b.         Within the academic community via a refereed journal article in an appropriate publication such as the Journal of Humanitarian Logistics and Supply Chain Management.

c.         Through the internal mechanisms of the host organisation (Oxfam GB).

d.         By feed back to the equipment manufacturers with the aim of developing a set of 3D printers which are optimised for field operations.

NB. This project is being carried out simultaneously with the ‘Rapid manufacturing for quick onset disasters‘ HIF-funded project by Field Ready. Where possible the two projects will share results and learning to greater inform the evidence surrounding the use of 3D printing in humanitariain crises.

[1] Tatham, P.H., and Pettit, S.J. (2010), “Transforming humanitarian logistics: the journey to supply network management”, International Journal of Physical Distribution and Logistics Management, Vol. 40 No. 8/9, pp. 609-622.

Elrha is a registered charity in England and Wales (1177110).

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