There are an estimated 100 million unexploded landmines in the ground today. Clearing these explosive remnant of war is a costly and risky business. Reports suggest that every 20 minutes someone is injured or killed by such a device. Extensive Mine Risk Education (MRE) programs exist, run by major NGO’s such as the UN and the Halo Trust. These programs aim to educate both Explosive Ordnance Experts and locals on the dangers of landmines.
3D LifePrints, a UK based 3D printing organization which also uses 3D technologies for humanitarian projects, has for the past 3 years has been using 3D printing to create highly realistic 3D printed replicas of commonly found landmines and ordnance for the MRE programs. These mimic a variety of devices in terms of size, shape, color and weight. These replicas are used in extremely challenging environments that are often hot, humid and dusty.
All replicas have been printed on desktop 3D printers in 3DLP’s bespoke 3D printing filament, which is an enhancement to normal PLA and ABS filaments – they found that normal filaments were not suitable for use in challenging environmental conditions – the normal ~2% moisture absorption rates for PLA caused the replicas to degrade in humid conditions, and temperature / atmospheric conditions specifically infra-red rays caused the models to deform due to a latent heat build-up
They have provided them to organizations such as the United Nations Mine Action Service and the International Committee of the Red Cross Weapons Humanitarian Department in a diverse range of conflict and post conflict countries such as Turkey, Jordan, South Sudan, Mali, Kenya, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and Iraq.
The Syrian Civil Defence Force, or more commonly known as the White Helmets (nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize), have been providing search and rescue services for the people of Syria for a number of years who have been adversely affected by the ongoing conflict. Through a UK government funded NGO, 3D LIfePrints have been able to provide them with ordnance replicas (it is estimated that over 30% of all bombs dropped in Syria do not explode) that have enabled them to more effectively carry out their work.
Shipping of realistic replicas even for worthwhile causes such as in Mine Risk Education programs can be challenging, as often logistics companies and customs officials deem even plastic replicas that are free-from-explosives to be categorised potentially as dangerous cargo. I personally met with 3D LifePrints executives in Turkey in January 2015, where to overcome these challenges they worked with a local 3D printer service shop in order to produce the replicas. 3D LifePrints have also set up a number of 3D printing capabilities in the actual country of interest, where replicas can be quickly provided to field operations with minimal logistics difficulties, such as as in South Sudan and Mali.
There is a lot of talk about 3D printing weapons including real guns and even grenades. For once we can happily report on using 3D printing for humanitarian purposes to combat issues related to conflict, where products are made to save lives instead of taking them. It would be nice if this type of initiatives had the same massive media coverage as (hardly functional) 3D printed weapons that have the potential to endanger the lives of people.