Field Trip to STIC Lab

On February 27, ReFab Dar took a field trip to see STIC Lab's the new Tech for Trade designed 3D printer mini-factory and PET plastic extruder that is being fined tuned and creating test filament. Aboard a 25 seater Coaster bus, we prepared to travel outside of Dar es Salaam to an village called Kitunda.

We were a mixed bag with all different ages and interests, unusually enough again a third of the participants were women. The time on the bus allowed people to be able to network and make new friends. The quietly happy children ate chapati and played games on the mobile phone. The long adventurous journey could be a post by is a story by itself. After two hours of driving and an entertaining motorcycle chase scene, we finally arrived at STIC Lab after winding through Kitunda's narrow dirt roads.

When the bus arrived at STIC Lab the travellers were hot, dusty, and amazed all at the same time. Upon arrival, we were welcomed by Dr. Stanley Mwalembe and Engineer Paul Nyakyi. The table was set for tea and mandazi. Everyone was too excited to stop to drink hot tea, although everyone was happy to have water and to begin to learn about the innovations all around them.

The first stop was the solar powered catfish pond which uses the sun's energy to help the fish to grow more quickly for food consumption. Next, the crowd followed to hea the story of the coin operated water dispenser which can measure how much water is dispensed accurately and allows people to fairly sell water to the community. This innovation, designed for increasing access to clean water in rural areas, won the World Bank Negawatt Challenge.

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Walking through the chemistry lab, we saw ongoing Maker projects such a experimentation with soap making and a bicycle gear transformed into a hair weaving machine. At every turn there was a new idea being engineered. Next door to the chemistry lab, the Fab Lab was a Maker's haven with neatly arranged tools on the wall and machines being built on most counter top surfaces.

The obvious star of the Fab Lab was the PET plastic extruder. Matt Rogge from Tech for Trade has been working with the engineers at STIC Lab to give life to a new invention to recycle the plastic from discarded PET water bottles into filament. For many months ReFab Dar has been watching the engineering process from afar, and for the first time was able to see the completed machine and the first batches of test filament. What was once a dream has become a reality.

The new mini-factory where seven 3D printers are set in a row to make a "printer farm" is the latest addition to the STIC Lab. The printer farm is a group of printers whose main task is to create more 3D printers. It is estimated that before the end of March, STIC Lab will have the ability to produce and sell more than 10 printers every month. The 3D printers made of predominately recycled parts with RepRap and Arduino electronics are becoming available in the local market for a subsidized price of $350. At this price point, 3D printing will be affordable for schools, small businesses, and budding entrepreneurs. The new filament gives us the ability to provide a local supply of plastic at a quarter of the normal imported filament cost.

The 3D printing workshop of the day was facilitated in the mini-factory by Dr. Stanley and Paul. The guests were taught the basic principles of 3D printing; from coming up with an idea, to design, and then printing. The students loved the presentation as it covered each step clearly and we were able to actually design and print a ring using two types of filament for comparison. When the lesson was finished, the visitors and hosts engaged in a lively discussion about how 3D printing can be used in Tanzania and how it is being used all over the world.

The conversation was disrupted only for time and lunch. For lunch, a few local women from Kitunda tried their hand for the first time in catering. The group hungrily enjoyed beans, rice, kale, beef stew, and watermelon with cold water and sodas while continuing to talk about the opportunities for development using 3D printing.

Finally it was time to thank our hosts and return to Buni Hub. All of the guests agreed it would be a day to remember and that they learned more than they anticipated. None of them has previously known that STIC Lab existed. In the end, all of travelers were glad to have had the opportunity to come and to see. Each was left with a bit more hope that yes indeed another reality is possible.