Meet the Togolese inventor who built a 3D printer from electronic waste
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Afate Gnikou, a inventor from Togo, built a 3D printer using only electronic waste that he salvaged from landfill sites. His aim is to use his printer to improve the lives of his countrymen by “printing” objects such as medical prostheses.
Afate Gnikou is a do-it-yourself kind of man. Trained as a geographer, he participated in a project to build the first 3D printer in Togo – a scheme run by WoeLab, a local tech incubator.
During our first interview with him, in December 2013, Gnikou explained the idea behind his own project to build a 3D printer out of electronic waste.
“Many second-hand computers are shipped from Europe to Ghana and Nigeria. These machines are dumped in large landfill sites that are very poorly regulated. It’s hard to say how many tonnes of electronic waste can be found in these sites, but it’s clear that more and more waste is building up as the years goes by.
Gnikou wanted to do something to address this growing problem, so he challenged himself to make a 3D printer entirely out of electronic waste found in these landfill sites.
This video tells the surprising story of how Gnikou built his 3D printer.
“I want to adapt the 3D printer to the Togolese and, indeed, African context and to fit local needs”Gnikou says:
Since 2014, a lot of things have happened. We were awarded first place at Fab10 in Barcelona, an international event showcasing accessible technology developed in an international network of incubators. Unfortunately, this success didn’t bring us any new partners or opportunities.
In 2014, Gnikou won a prize at FAB10 Barcelona, a meeting of international tech entrepreneurs and inventors. Unfortunately, he still hasn’t found a partner for his project.
Since then, I’ve been working diligently on a more powerful model. The first model was hard to transport because it was quite fragile. The new model is much more solid.
In the original model, I used the body of a computer system unit as the frame for the printer.
For the second model, I used the body of a scanner as well as plastic sheets that I recovered from old computer monitors. I also added lights so that the printer can be used at night or in dark places.
Our Observer has made a wide range of objects including cups and small-scale models of houses. In the future, he wants to focus on printing objects that are useful.
“My dream is to use my printer to make medical prostheses”
I want to move past the experimental phase and into something more concrete. I want to adapt the 3D printer to the Togolese – and, indeed, African – context and use it to respond to urgent local needs.
My dream is to use my printer to create medical prostheses. There are many people in my community living with disabilities. If I ask them why they don’t use medical prostheses, they smile at me and say “My friend, they are too expensive!”
Moreover, currently, all prostheses are imported into Togo. They are standardized, which means they aren’t adapted to an individual person’s needs. Often, doctors have to tinker with the prostheses to make them fit the patient.
With a 3D printer, we could create what we need and free our continent from its dependence on imports.
"I’m looking for a new workshop and a new partner for a new start”
Gnikou estimates that he has used his 3D printers to create about 150 objects so far. The largest object he printed was a cup that was 16 cm wide and 12 cm tall. But his dreams are much bigger than that.
I’m currently looking for a new start. I’m working on improving my printer in my workshop at my parents’ house. I’m looking for someone who could help me obtain a bigger workshop and more tools. I’d also like to find a financial partner who believes in the project.
I’m also looking for second-hand computers because I’d like to set up a space where I could train young people to build machines themselves. My goal would be to get them to the point where they are able to create objects that respond to concrete needs or help them in their daily lives.
Would you like to help Gnikou? If so, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll put you in touch with him!