Are 3D printed products feasible in Tanzania?

The ReFab Dar experiment has explored the possibilities for creating 3D products in Tanzania. there were focus on 4 product categories: jewelry, medical, spare parts, and consumer goods "hacks". In each of these four verticals a number of prototypes were created and then shared for feedback with interested stakeholders.

Medical Tools Feasibility Study

3D printing in the medical space in Tanzania seems to be very feasible. High import prices, unstable supply chains and long lead times are problems health care providers in Tanzania encounter on a daily basis. 3D printing holds the potential to solve or significantly diminish these problems. There are however some specific challenges that have to be dealt with; the lack of approved and high quality designs, insecure regulatory framework and significant material development being the most prominent. This means lengthy clinical trials, field experiments and technological development are needed to take any business to the next step. ReFab Dar is partnering with JHPIEGO, Reflow, Cambridge University and 3D4MD to take those next steps and get a step closer to realizing the potential of this technology for improving the health ecosystem in Tanzania.

Accessories Feasibility Study

Accessories are generally very suited to the 3D printing business model. New designs can easily be created and routed to market and the unlimited variety of products can satisfy the needs of a wide variety of consumers. As a business model however the products will be limited to a middle to high income market as it will be hard to compete with the price point of mass-produced products. Furthermore, for the high end, accessory market the uniqueness and novelty of 3D can be a significant advantage. However, for the products to stand out and to truly be unique, a (team of) 3D designer(s) will be needed to customize for the Tanzanian market. 

Jewelry Feasibility Study

3D printing jewelry is one of the few consumer facing 3D printing products currently being successfully deployed in the Western market. Through the 3d printing process a jewelry startup could create a varied portfolio, cost-efficient personalization and achieve low supply costs. However, any startup creating 3D printed jewelry would have a hard time competing with products that are currently mass produced for the low-end market. This limits the market to middle or high end markets where the uniqueness of the design is more likely to command sufficient margin. The major challenge for any jewelry startup in Tanzania would be to a create high quality products that would fit the middle-to-high income markets as well as finding or producing the designs needed to thrive in these markets. If done so successfully, the flexibility of the 3D printing process and the originality of the product could create a strong business model with a diverse and flexible portfolio.

Spare Parts/ Hydroponics Feasibility Study

3D printing spare parts has been a long-time promise of additive manufacturing. It has the potential to save time and money through reducing the cost of small-scale production, lowering lead times, localizing supply chains and lowering the cost of storage. Currently that promise has not been fulfilled as most affordable 3D printing techniques are limited to plastic products. Furthermore, a lack of design files from suppliers means significant time will need to be invested in design and testing before functionality can be guaranteed. A spare part enterprise, solely aimed at 3D printed components, is most likely not feasible. However, a more service oriented company, where 3D printing is an integral part of finding sustainable ways to upkeep machines, could be more profitable. Especially when directed at problems where lead time and supply chains cause great cost to the owners of the machines.

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