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October 14, 2014

JICA Helps Put 3D Printing to Work in Asia
The efforts of a volunteer lead to the first 'fab lab' in the Philippines and a regional conference

Most people have heard of 3D printers, but have no hands-on experience with them and have not considered purchasing one. It's similar to the situation with personal computers in the early 1980s.

In Asia, JICA is helping to remedy that and to put 3D printers to work solving real world problems, including disaster recovery.

photoA chair using recycled plastic, left, and a chair using fibers from the stalks of banana trees knocked over in a typhoon were both designed during FabLab Asia Network 1st Conference.

Fab labs are grass-roots manufacturing workshops with 3D printers and other digital machine tools that can be freely used by citizens, and those workshops are networked over the internet. The efforts of a Japanese Overseas Cooperation Volunteer, Yutaka Tokushima, dispatched to the Philippines Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), led to the establishment of a fab lab in Bohol province, Fab Lab Bohol, and to the holding of the FabLab Asia Network 1st Conference there in May.

Tokushima, who said he learned about fab labs from reading the works of MIT professor Neil Gershenfeld, got the idea to establish a fab lab at Bohol Island State University in 2012. He arrived in the Philippines with the aim of supporting high-quality manufacturing. What caught his eye there was plastic trash thrown away everywhere and people making a living collecting it. He had the idea that rather than selling the plastic as they found it, those people could make more money by using it as a raw material to make products.

In response to the hard efforts of Tokushima, the DTI, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Bohol Island State University and JICA established Fab Lab Bohol.

In the province of Bohol, there are plans to use the fab lab to support more than 170 local medium and small‐sized enterprises in the industrial arts and commodities sector.

FAN1, for which Tokushima served as executive committee chairman, also was the debut of Fab Lab Bohol. At the conference more than 200 digital creators from eight Asian countries gathered with the objective of creating an Asian co-creation platform to use the power of open innovation to solve problems. A design contest there focused on the theme of disaster recovery and restoration. The entries included chairs made using fibers from the stalks of banana trees knocked over in a typhoon, trays for distributing food in evacuation shelters and dome house type shelter facilities that require no pillars.

President Benigno Aquino III attended FAN1, thought highly of the fab lab and FAN1 initiatives, and told the DTI to build fab labs all over the country.

The conference was recognized with a 2014 Good Design Award from the Japan Institute of Design Promotion on Oct. 1.

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