Michigan Technological University has just announced the winners of its 3D Printers for Peace contest. Open for entries since the spring, the competition was conceived by Joshua Pearce — a 3D printing enthusiast and associate professor of materials science and engineering and electrical and computer engineering at MTU — who was concerned about the notoriety building around 3D printing technologies when the gun stories were at their height. “We wanted to celebrate designs that will make lives better, not snuff them out,” said Pearce. And so they have, if the top three placing 3D printed projects are anything to go by. Pearce thinks so too: “I’m really happy with the diversity of designs. They showcase the ability of the 3D printing community to benefit humanity.”
Placing first in the contest is VaxBeads, a 3D printed project submitted by John Van Tuyl of Hamilton, Ontario. The idea is provide families and doctors with an easy, practical and colourful way of keeping track of childhood vaccine records in the developing world. The plastic blocks are printed in different colours and shapes to represent different vaccines and are added to the string of beads in line with immunizations administered to act as a record. Each VaxBead string is personalized to the child as it can be printed with their initials, date of birth and an identifying number. Van Tuyl receives the top prize — an open source Series 1 3D Printer donated by Type A Machines.
Van Tuyl is a master’s student in mechanical engineering at McMaster University, and has a biomedical background, which prompted him to focus on improving immunization rates in the developing world. “We have the capacity to immunize against many diseases, but it’s not getting accomplished,” he said. But he believes that putting easily interpreted medical records into the hands of the people could help and that is what VaxBeads is designed to do.
The judges were impressed with the design’s originality and practicality. “VaxBeads are a novel idea; no one has done anything like that yet,” said Pearce. “John demonstrated the ability of 3D printing to address a real need in the developing world. You could print beads fast enough to hand to children, and if they were to wear the necklace to the doctor’s office, it would be quick and easy to identify missing vaccinations.”
Second place went to Matthew Courchaine who submitted a 3D printed project based on existing, expensive, water purification solutions. Courchaine is working on a double major in computer and electrical engineering at Michigan Tech and submitted his concept — a solar-powered water purification cone. Designed for use during disasters or in regions where clean water is a precious commodity, he says of his project: “The challenge was to recreate the technology so that it can cheaply be produced using 3D printing — as long as you have some sunlight and a source of water, it will work.” Courchaine, of Crystal Falls, has been hooked on 3D printers since he built one himself and started using it to make household items, knick-knacks and the like. “When I saw Dr. Pearce’s description of the contest, I completely agreed with his reasoning. Often times, I will get asked jokingly to print someone a gun, but I think that the 3D printing revolution is a great thing and has endless possibilities.” He will receive a MOST version of the RepRap Prusa Mendel open-source 3D printer kit for his entry.
The third prize, a MatterHackers sampler pack of filament, was awarded to Aaron Meidinger for his design of a braille tablet, which could let a sighted person leave short notes to a blind person, or vice versa. Plastic tiles with letters in both braille and the alphabet can be arranged on a platform reminiscent of Scrabble. “It’s simple, easy to make, and definitely would work,” said Pearce.
Meidinger, a mechanical engineering major at Arizona State University, started thinking about language after taking a sign language class in high school. “Braille is to the blind assign language is to the deaf, and braille is certainly not intuitive for a sighted person,” he said. “There are extremely expensive tools out there that aim to create braille on a computerized tablet, but I wanted to design something that would be simple and educational for a sighted person to use, and could be useful in many ways for non-verbal communication for the blind. Even if you can’t write braille, you can arrange tiles to spell out what you need to.”
Pearce expressed his thanks to all the 3D Printers for Peace participants. “All the open-source entries demonstrated the technical ability and promise of low-cost 3D printers to provide for humanity’s needs and advance the cause of peace.”
All the entries are now posted on Thingiverse.com and can be downloaded for free and printed by anyone with a 3D printer.