Not long after I joined the 3D printing group on Google+ there was a post made by a newbie about building a 3D printer out of parts from traditional paper printers and other electronics. There was a general consensus among responses that sounded a lot like a scoff. A few makers commented that while it was technically possible, it would be significantly more tedious to get working and the overall quality of prints would be subpar. Their response was based on the fact that firmware for RepRaps is written to communicate with off-the-shelf hardware. For instance, motors in paper printers don’t operate the same as the stepper motors that 3D printers use.
For that reason, Kodjo Afate Gnikou bought stepper motors for his e-waste sourced 3D printer that he calls W.AFATE. He lives in Africa, pushing on the forefront of innovation. Much of the continent’s population is far from anything like the big box stores of the US, and the scarcity puts a premium on working with whatever is around. In Africa that’s heaps of broken computers and office electronics. For Afate that was a computer case, rails and belts from discarded paper printers and scanners, and the insides of a diskette drive. Purchasing the electronics and stepper motors set him back only $100.
Afate can now produce goods that can be difficult to find locally and expensive to ship in. This could be especially useful for a cell phone and computer repairman like him, where printing brackets, cases, and enclosures costs much less than ordering such components. The printer took a few months to assemble, and Afate feels it was time well spent, saying “My dream is to give young people hope and to show that Africa, too, has its place on the global market when it comes to technology. We are able to create things.”
The construction of W.AFATE was part of a larger project for the NASA Space App Challenge 2013.
W.AFATE on Mars is a conceptual solution to dealing with both the e-waste dumps in Africa and colonizing Mars. It’s a radical solution for a severe problem. The basics are: send the e-waste directly to Mars with some advanced assembly robots and 3D printers, use the robots to build construction-sized 3D printers out of the e-waste, and build habitats for humans to later live in.
Novel, but rather optimistic. Consumer goods are made of very light-gauge materials like stamped aluminum and thin plastics. I don’t know if large 3D printers could be assembled from such small, weak bits; surviving the powerful wind storms is another technical challenge. I like the idea of e-waste 3D printers, but I think keeping them on Earth would be more efficient for now.