If you were suitably impressed by Tarek Loubani’s efforts of innovating the 3D Printed Stethoscope, then you’ll surely be taken in with 3D4MD, a company that 3D prints medical supplies that can be used on the field or in remote places. The aim of the project is to empower doctors who visit those remote locations, equipping them with a Solar-Powered Suitcase and a 3D Printer that can print medical supplies on demand.

Dr. Julielynn Wong, the Director of 3D4MD, always loved science fiction and one thing that has captured her imagination was the idea of a replicator – a machine that could create anything.

Wong says, “When I started using 3D printers, I realized that this technology could be applied in so many ways to help others. My father carried a doctor’s bag containing medical equipment when he made house calls. I began to imagine how doctors could use portable 3D printers to make medical supplies for patients during visits.”

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How It All Began

Wong elaborates. “Last December, I brought my 3D printer with me in a carry-on suitcase to manufacture medical supplies at the Mars Desert Research Station. Since the International Space Station is powered by solar panels, I used solar energy to power my 3D printer to make medical supplies during my simulated Mars mission. This had never been done before. When I returned home, I had my printed medical supplies tested by clinic staff to see if they worked properly. They did. These results are now published in this month’s issue of the Aerospace Medicine Human Performance Journal.

“This inspired me to design an ultra-portable, plug-and-play, solar powered 3D printing system that fits inside a carry-on suitcase so healthcare workers visiting remote villages can bring it with them to make medical supplies on-site. And perhaps these workers can leave these 3D printers behind after teaching the local community how to design and print their own solutions. Some 3D printers can print their own replacement parts. The local community could print parts to make more 3D printers.”

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“Today’s it’s possible to use low-cost 3D printers to make medical supplies locally on demand using solar energy. Over one billion people lack access to electricity. In remote places, simple medical items are expensive and can take weeks to months to arrive in the hands of medical staff. 3D4MD brings technologists, healthcare professionals and patients together to create affordable 3D printable medical solutions to positively impact over one billion lives.”

One of the key innovations for the project is the ultra-portable, plug-and-play solar powered 3D printing system, which can be brought onboard an aircraft as carry-on luggage. This allows safer handling of delicate parts and saves money by avoiding checked baggage fees. The 3D printing system is capable of making a range of medical supplies, including custom splints, scalpel handles, and dental instruments.

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What is also commendable is that Wong is not a trained designer, so she applied to IDEO’s human-centered design thinking to create this system for a healthcare worker who is traveling to a remote community. She further explains, “The entire system had to be under the maximum size limits for carry-on baggage. I used off-the-shelf solar panels, battery, and printer because a plug-and-play system would be easier to use for minimally trained personnel. Regulations vary between airlines so it’s not always possible to transport a lead acid battery on some flights. This solar-powered system was designed so it could also be operated using a locally obtained battery.”

We all know that power outages are pretty common and difficult to predict in many parts of the world. However, with this new innovation, one could continue printing during a power outage if the printer could switch to an off-grid power source. That’s why this suitcase 3D printer uses solar or electric grid power and why 3D4MD is changing how doctors are able to help their patients around the world.

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