September 2, 2012

Idea 2 Product Labs

Filed under: 3D printing,Additive Manufacturing,Education,Future,Life,Manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 09:30

The Idea 2 Product (I2P) series of labs is an initiative that was launched in South Africa last year. The labs consist of CAD workstations and 3D printers for hands-on learning, experimentation, invention, and new product development. The primary goal of the labs is to offer opportunities for professional and economic development, especially in underdeveloped regions of South Africa and other parts of Africa.

The I2P initiative is the brainchild of professor Deon de Beer of Vaal University of Technology (Vanderbijlpark, South Africa). I have known Deon for 17 years and he has a track record of success with about everything he touches. If there’s a single individual responsible for helping to launch and grow additive manufacturing and 3D printing in South Africa, it is Deon. He has gained the respect of countless people from industry, academia, and government in South African and around the world.

Deon launched the first I2P lab at VUT in mid 2011 with the installation of 20 personal 3D printers—a historic first worldwide. (A personal 3D printer is one that sells for less than $5,000, but more typically $1,000 to $2,000.) He also created a smaller I2P lab with two 3D printers in a rural area of South Africa. He has ordered 70 additional 3D printers (20 have been received thus far) for four new I2P labs at educational institutions that are similar to community colleges here in the U.S. In parallel, he is creating I2P labs at three VUT satellite campuses and two more at science centers.

Deon has big future plans for I2P labs. Based on his past and current support from the South African government, I have no doubt that he will succeed. Deon envisions I2P labs across the African continent and already has tentative plans for labs in Zambia, Mozambique, and Botswana. In the meantime, he sees the potential for labs at up to 22 universities, 50 community colleges, 25 private institutions, 20 science centers, and many secondary and primary schools in South Africa. He is also gaining support for the first I2P 2Go mobile unit that would take 3D printers on the road to remote areas.

The impact that the I2P labs could have is almost beyond calculation. Each lab could introduce hundreds of people of all ages to CAD, design, product development, and manufacturing. This could lead to a dramatic increase in new ideas, new products, and new mini economies that would lead to improving economic conditions in underdeveloped regions. Rural areas living in poverty conditions could develop products that they could sell on “main street” within their community, as well as to neighboring communities. I applaud Deon’s efforts and fully expect that he and his I2P labs will make a dramatic and unprecedented difference.