3D Printing Technology Gives Hope to Gambia

Meet Sering, a Gambian future electronics and electrical engineer who is passionate about 3D printing

Sering, a Serrekunda native, is currently doing his 6-week internship program at Make3D Company Limited (“Make3D”), the Gambia’s only 3D printing company, before starting his third year in the electronics and electrical engineering programme at the University of Applied Science, Engineering and Technology (USET) in Kanifing.

Sering has dreamed about being an electronics and electrical engineer since he was a child. He has frequently observed The Gambia’s power problems, and noticed that the country has to rely on foreign workers to fix the problems. “I wanted to be part of making my country a better place for everyone by improving the power system. This is why I find my field so inspiring – it can make a huge difference in our everyday life.

Before his internship at Make3D and USET’s recent establishment of an innovation lab, he would teach himself about 3D printing by watching YouTube videos. With the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA)’s support in upgrading the training institutions in The Gambia as part of the Youth Empowerment through TVET in The Gambia project, this has completely changed. Now, the USET is equipped with 23 3D printers, along with 11 plotters and 125 all-in-one computers

Over the past three weeks, Sering has learned a lot about 3D printing, from how to use the printer to basically how to design everything. With 3D printers, “local problems can be solved with local solutions”, said Sering.

Sering’s journey with 3D printing doesn’t just end with his internship

When asked how he plans to apply what he has learned to his community, his eyes immediately light up. He explains, “After my internship, I am going to show my classmates how to use the 3D printers in our lab because I believe in the power of knowledge-sharing.” He maintains that 3D printing technology can have a greater impact on not only his community but the entire country, as well. As he explains, “A lot of times, parts of a machine, device and equipment are not locally available, so we have to depend on exported ones, which are not always easy to find. With 3D printers, this problem can be easily solved.

As Sering has already designed and created many items with a 3D printer, such as a circuit board and electrical-cord holders, he is excited about applying this technology to his field of work. He adds, “In some countries, people use 3D printers to build houses. In The Gambia, where the quality of bricks and blocks is not always good, houses are too often damaged and destroyed, especially during the rainy season. Of course, it will take some time to apply such advanced technology to our context, but we need to start from somewhere.” Sering is hopeful that this technology will help his community and country to become more resilient and sustainable.

The introduction of 3D printer is an exciting opportunity for teachers as well

Like Sering, David Jaw, a lecturer teaching production engineering at the USET, is excited about how 3D printers will change the future for his students and work.

David is one of the 11 trainees who were trained in 3D printing through the Youth Empowerment through TVET in The Gambia project. When he first tried a 3D printer, he was intrigued by the ability to create any prototype he wanted for his work, and how that would help him to reduce errors in production manufacturing.

He believes that, with this emerging technology, teachers and schools must consider at least three factors which will allow students to successfully gain the skills they need for jobs and business opportunities. These factors are up-to-date training materials, modern equipment to keep up with the latest knowledge and skills, and the capacity of trainers. David asserts that “All of these come down to a public-private partnership. Involving private sector partners is critical to have up-to-date industry-specific materials and equipment needed to upgrade the skills of students and trainers.

After David and the other 10 trainees completed training in the basic use and management of 3D printers and how to use a software program to design prototypes, they attended a three-day workshop to develop an implementation strategy with the USET management. Through group discussions, the strategy came up with specific actions to tackle four 3D printing-related issues specific to The Gambia. These issues were identified during a needs assessment conducted prior to the training. They included a lack of awareness and understanding of 3D printing, inadequate linkages to markets, operations, and limited skills and job opportunities.

USET management, teachers and students are firmly committed to making the most of 3D printers

The participants also included details about the cost of using the 23 printers and how the University could maintain the equipment while managing the cost. According to Make3D, it would cost at least 2,046 US dollars to run all 23 printers for 30 days. The University management and other participants agreed that the University should set aside a regular annual budget to manage the 3D printing lab and support staff capacity building, as well as explore options for generating income by using those 3D printers. The discussions were fruitful in other ways. The University will set up a committee for the new center of commercialization, which will include an incubation program. This committee will be in charge of the implementation plan and develop terms of references dedicated to the management of 3D printers for staff. The University will also explore the possibility of using a solar power system to prevent power outages, which are still common in The Gambia.

USET’s students and teachers can now access all of this modern equipment to develop new skill sets and, possibly, create a market for themselves in the near future. The University is also considering inviting other training institutions and their students to use the 3D printers so that more and more Gambians can enjoy the benefits of this new technology.

Two key takeaways from UNESCO-KOICA’s support for the Gambia’s national development through TVET

The stories of Sering, David and the workshop participants share two important messages. First, a holistic approach is crucial. This KOICA-funded project allows UNESCO to provide a full range of support, from procurement of modern equipment, to capacity-building of master trainers, to development of an implementation strategy. Second, it is essential to acknowledge that building a competitive and competent workforce requires a long-term commitment by the country. The TVET system needs a refocus so that all learners reach their full potential, teachers are up to date in terms of industry knowledge and information, and training institutions and centers offer quality programmes. The UNESCO-KOICA partnership, through the Youth Empowerment through TVET in The Gambia project, is about allowing the country to engage in the whole national development process, including TVET policy, curricula, standards and TVET-MIS development, as well as TVET teacher training upgrading and a communication campaign. This will eventually lead to the revival of the Gambia’s national TVET system.

Original Source: UNESCO