The adoption of 3D printing technology is on the rise. Enthusiasts and professionals alike are using it to overcome the manufacturing gap in Iraq. The decreasing cost and widespread availability of materials and technical information has made it possible for anyone with the purchasing power to launch their very own manufacturing centres.
In this article, we will analyse the rise of 3D printing in Iraq, the potential of this technology in transforming the country’s manufacturing sector, and the obstacles that lay ahead in realising such a future.
What is 3D Printing?
3D printing (also known as 3DP or Additive Manufacturing) is the process of creating three-dimensional, physical objects from 3D computer models. They are made in Computer Aided Designs, Manufacturing, and Engineering (CAD/CAM/CAE), or acquired by using 3D scanners.
3D Printing has seen incredible advancements not only on the technical side, but also in its adoption and recognition by manufacturers around the world.
The manufacturing process varies depending on the application, type of printer, and material being used but the principals of the process mostly remain the same. The 3D Printer receives XYZ instructions from the CAD files and begins adding layer upon layer of material to the printing object until the desired 3D shape is achieved.
The technology was initially reserved for scientists and niche enthusiasts but became more mainstream having been used in a range of industries including construction, medicine, aerospace, military, humanitarian relief, agriculture and more. As the technology matures day by day, its role in manufacturing will be increasingly crucial.
3D Printing in Post-Conflict Countries
Countries with a lower Human Development Index (HDI) and less developed industrial base are at a disadvantage when it comes to manufacturing and prototyping. Such countries are highly dependant on outside manufacturing and importing which leads to high costs. Post-conflict countries fit this profile in particular.
On the other hand, manufacturers in countries with a high HDI, good infrastructure, robust supply chain and logistics, technical knowledge and research centres are attracting talent and investment. Post-conflict countries would have to heavily invest in these areas to begin their industrialisation process, a precarious option considering how many of these countries cannot afford the upfront costs.
3D Printing is presenting itself as a disruptive technology to the status quo. 3D printers are becoming more affordable and opening more manufacturing possibilities as the technology doesn’t require an extensive support network. This makes it decentralised by nature and gives even the remotest area of a country the possibility to have the same capacity and quality of manufactured goods as major cities. Imagining a remote town in rural Iraq with the ability to manufacture it’s own products, from medical equipment and home appliances to car spare parts, was unthinkable years ago. Now, this is possible.
3D Printing in Iraq
Iraqi creatives recognise the importance of 3D Printing to support the country’s advancement. Many local groups and non-profit organisations are dedicating their talent and resources to develop the sector. What started as a niche for technology enthusiasts was quickly embraced by companies and the general population.
The benefits of 3D Printing are apparent, especially for circumnavigating import restrictions of certain products by manufacturing them locally. This is especially helpful as Iraq still suffers from legacy trade restrictions.
The increasing interest in 3D Printing in Iraq has led to:
- A growing community of 3D printing enthusiasts
- Physical spaces dedicated to fabrication and training
- Dedicated businesses for the sales and maintenance of 3D printers
Now, any Iraqi who can afford a 3D Printer can order one from websites like 3D Print Iraq, obtain the knowhow from online resources or by attending local courses provided by the likes of Field Ready, Science Camp and Mosul Space, and meet likeminded people at spaces like The Station and IOT Makers.
Working Like Bees in a Hive
One of the interesting aspects of the Iraqi 3D Printing scene is the strength and coordination between the community.
One drawback of 3D Printing lies in its scalability for largescale manufacturing. Manufacturing is limited by the number of units available and the printing speeds of those units. The industry is working on this issue with more advanced printing technology and increasing printing speeds, but in the meantime, one solution for this issue lays in 3D Printing Hives.
Hives are communities of 3D Printing enthusiasts and companies working together to manufacture a larger amount of items and distribute them. Iraqi 3D Printing Hives are spearheaded by organisations like Field Ready who are working to build a community of creators and collaborating to provide needed products, such as the manufacturing of PPE equipment for local hospitals.
Obstacles to Overcome
Despite these advancements, there are still many challenges to overcome in Iraq, some of which are common to other post-conflict countries and others being unique to Iraq:
Low Number of Experts
A huge obstacle in deploying 3D Printing at a larger scale is the need for enough experts and technicians to design models and manufacture different products.
The Iraqi 3D Printing community is quite aware of this issue and are trying to overcome it through trainings, however, with a population of over 40 million, there is a lot of ground to cover.
Lack of Legal Framework
As new technology emerges it requires a legal framework to protect providers and users of the technology. One of the hot debates around the world is the 3D printing of copyrighted or patterned objects which presents a challenge to manufacturers and requires government intervention. While the lack of government oversight has its own merits (giving the ability to manufacture needed objects without legal restrictions), it still has its downsides. Protection of innovations made by Iraqis is something that must be addressed where the government and community need to cooperate to present a legally binding framework to protect Iraqi innovations and propel R&D in the field.
Iraq’s past still has its scars on many sectors in the country. Products, technologies and financial services are still restricted and some 3D Printing technologies fall into this category, namely 3D Bioprinters, which can be used to help print tissue and other medical needs that can save lives. A clear solution for this issue is not yet being presented but the persistent efforts by Iraqi entrepreneurs are slowly making a shift in the way Iraq is perceived around the world and may, with government intervention, lead to change.
The future of 3D Printing in Iraq is very promising. The technology is rapidly developing and has a never ending list of use cases, meaning it is projected to be the leading method of manufacturing in the world. For Iraq, the increasing interest in the sector means it will grow more. There is a rising focus on education as many universities are opening 3D labs or partnering with existing makerspaces.
The business side is also expanding with more players providing 3D printers and printing services to an increasing demand from Iraqi creators. The technology is being used in more industries such as construction, medical and retail giving a country, once scared to move forward from the past, a new and promising future.