SOLAR-POWERED SUITCASE 3D PRINTERS

Over one billion people lack access to electricity.  In many remote areas, simple medical items are expensive and can take weeks or months to arrive in the hands of medical staff.  3D4MD's Dr. Julielynn Wong has designed and tested a solar-powered, plug-and-play, ultra-portable 3D printing system to manufacture a range of hygienic, effective, and low-cost medical supplies at the point of use.  This system fits inside a carry-on suitcase to allow safer handling of delicate parts and to save money by avoiding checked baggage fees.  Might a doctor's bag be a 3D printer in the future?

I've always loved science fiction and one thing that's captured my imagination is this idea of a replicator - a machine that can create anything. Today, these machines are real.  When I started using 3D printers, I realized that this technology could be applied in so many ways to help others.  My father carried a doctor's bag containing medical equipment when he made house calls. I began to imagine how doctors could use portable 3D printers to make medical supplies for patients during visits.  

Last December, I brought my 3D printer with me in a carry-on suitcase to manufacture medical supplies at the Mars Desert Research Station.  Since the International Space Station is powered by solar panels, I used solar energy to power my printer to make medical supplies during my simulated Mars mission.  This has never been done before.  

When I returned home, I had my printed medical supplies tested by clinic staff to see if they worked properly.  They did.  These results are now published in the September issue of the Aerospace Medicine Human Performance journal.

This inspired me to design an ultra-portable, plug-and-play, solar-powered 3D printing system that fits inside a carry-on suitcase so healthcare workers visiting remote villages can bring it with them to make medical supplies on site.  And perhaps these workers can leave these 3D printers behind after teaching the local community how to design and print their own solutions.  

Image courtesy of Adrian Bowyer

Some 3D printers can print their own replacement parts.  The local community could print parts to make more 3D printers.   

In designing this system, I used off-the-shelf plug-and-play components because they would be easier to use for minimally trained staff.  I published this work in a medical journal so others could build their own solar-powered suitcase 3D printers.  Contact us for more details.  

Today it's possible to use low-cost 3D printers to make medical supplies locally using solar energy.  Our mission is to use 3D printers to deliver the highest standard of medical care in the most challenging places to those who need it the most.  3D4MD brings technologists, healthcare professionals and patients together to create affordable 3D printable medical solutions to positively impact over one billion lives.  Contact us if you'd like to get involved.