Monday, April 24, 2017
The Myanmar Times
The Myanmar Times

Farmers reap rewards from 3D printing

Whizzing across a blue-lit platform with a whirr and a squeak, liquid plastic pours from its chrome tip. The 3D printer seems a far cry from the muddy fields surrounding Yangon.

Sample of mechanical parts made using 3D printing technology sit in display as an employee works on a design at a printing factory in Yangon. Photos: AFPSample of mechanical parts made using 3D printing technology sit in display as an employee works on a design at a printing factory in Yangon. Photos: AFP

But in an industrial park south of the city 3D printing technology is now being used to design bespoke parts that are changing the lives of struggling farmers, who often rely on making their own tools or adapting imports in place of agriculture machinery.

But poor equipment is only one challenge amid natural disasters and razor-thin profit-margins for Myanmar’s farmers. Agriculture accounts for nearly half of Myanmar’s economic output, but it is among the smallest export markets in Asia.

But change is afoot at social enterprise Proximity Designs, where 3D printers are being used to design specially adapted farming tools, in consultation with the farmers who will use them.

"We want to create something that farmers find delight in," said product designer Taiei Harimoto at the workshop, where robotic arms line the walls near benches littered with tools and mechanical parts.

A plastic sprinkler nozzle, made using 3D printer technology.A plastic sprinkler nozzle, made using 3D printer technology.

The printer, a black, hollow cube with a needle inside attached to a computer, has already been put to use creating parts for a sprinkler system and the internal mechanics for a solar pump.

Creating prototypes in plastic means the team can make multiple drafts cheaply, working to perfect designs for complex pieces before thousands of dollars are spent on manufacturing.

Once the design is finished, it is sent off to factories abroad where the final part can be mass-produced.

"Before it might have taken weeks and sometimes months", to make prototypes for each product, saidsays co-founder Debbie Aung Din.

Out in the fields, farmers say they are already seeing profits grow.

Betel leaf farmer U Kyaw Win tends to his crops in Nyaung Don township, Ayeyarwady Region. A 3D-printed sprinkler system allows him to water more plants in less time.Betel leaf farmer U Kyaw Win tends to his crops in Nyaung Don township, Ayeyarwady Region. A 3D-printed sprinkler system allows him to water more plants in less time.

On his tiny half-acre plot some 70 miles [100 kilometres] from Yangon, betel farmer U Kyaw Win says his life has been changed by the 3D printer-designed sprinkling system he installed over two months ago.

"Using products like this can cut in half the amount of time we have to spend working each day," the 60-year-old farmer said as he stroked the wide leaves, which are chewed as a popular stimulant.

Instead of paying labourers to water the plants using buckets – back-breaking work that left leaves became damp and diseased – U Kyaw Win now has a targeted system that he can operate himself.

"We also reduced our costs by more than half compared to what we had to spend before," he explained.