Farmers in Myanmar, notoriously under-equipped with agricultural tools, made a virtue out of necessity of deploying 3D printing technology to create bespoke parts the can use to cultivate their fields and process their crops.
A new entrepreneurial social enterprise located in an industrial park south of Yangon had a brilliant idea: Since farmers, after five decades of isolationist military rule, were already used to cobble together their own tools or use ill-adapted imports, why not use new, cutting-edge 3D printer technology to design specially adapted tools that the need instead?
The company, a non-profit business called Proximity Designs, in cooperation with farmers, is now creating the tools, sometimes quite complex pieces, with a computer as a three-dimensional graphic and print them out a prototype with its own 3D printer. According to the organisation, they are working closely with the farmers to ensure they are making tools that they will use and actually need.
Once the design has been finalised and the prototype gets approval by the farmers who intend to use it, it is sent to factories overseas for mass production. That way, Proximity Designs is cutting out a lengthy design and production process that can cost thousands of dollars.
So far, the 3D printing process has been used to design parts for a sprinkler system at a betel leaf farm and solar lamps, and farmers say they already reap rewards from the 3D printed tools that saves them a lot of time, money and effort.
Proximity Designs was founded in 2004 by Jim Taylor and Debbie Aung Din, who set out to help rural populations in Myanmar by making new tools and technologies more accessible. Today, they employ over 350 staff.
Agricultural equipment is crucial in Myanmar, a country where farming is still the main industry, accounting for 60 per cent of the GDP and employing some 65 per cent of the labour force.