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How 3-D Printing Can Boost Nigeria's Economy

-Nigerians of the Diaspora

Nigeria Media in Diaspora
January 25 2016 13:23:25

How 3-D Printing Can Boost Nigeria's Economy

By Prof. Brando Okolo (3-D Expert, CTO and Founder at Indmatec GmbH; Professor of Materials Science and Engineering as well as Entrepreneurship and Business Planning – Karlsruhe Germany)

It is still the case that when Nigeria heaves a sigh the rest of Africa waits for what comes next.  Nigeria is an African “big-brother” recently surpassing South Africa as the biggest economy in Africa in terms of GDP per capita.  With such a credential it goes without saying that what makes a nation an economic heavyweight must be seen in Nigeria.  However, in recent time, “oil”; Nigeria's key economic driving force, has  traded at a price which directly affects national budget and plans requiring that painful cuts in expenditure and  general governmental obligations are applied across the board.  Businesses in the country which depend on revenue from oil sales are under pressure to survive each operating cycle and spending by oil related companies is appropriately low.

To stem this downside, the Nigerian government has promised to revive economic activities in other potential revenue generating sectors of the economy including agriculture, mining and textile but  political infighting has simply not brought the needed focus to more urgent economic  issues.  The national discuss has over the past year been focused on absolutely unproductive aspects of our national affairs. The labour market is anemic, workers are owed, people in the private sector are reluctant to spend and government statements are punitive in nature,  scaring both internal and external investors away from an environment where uncertainty has characterized every aspect of the Nigerian way of life.

Notwithstanding these antecedents the Nigerian spirit is still one of hope, endurance, perseverance and readiness to make things better.  If there is an African nation in a position to make an industrial statement it is South Africa, Egypt or Nigeria. With an economic and political structure fit for production based growth Nigeria stands to benefit If government could craft policy and expenditure based decisions in favour of manufacturing.

The global talk on manufacturing and production are all geared towards the so-called “Industry 4.0”, an industrial age where production lines are made lean, robustly networked and given less human presence.  Such an era is built on a diversity of tested industrial tools with layered processes and operations working to make the business and economic sense of manufacturing timely, efficient, inexpensive, reliable and free of certain constraints that exist in today's industrial settings.

This is where Nigeria can benefit from emerging technology in 3-D printing.

Figure 1. Industry 4.0 with digitally networked industrial tools such as 3D printers embedded in a global infrastructure

Embedded in the strata which characterize Industry 4.0 is additive manufacturing or 3D printing technology. This kind of technology allows for the manufacture of engineering components applying materials-additive approaches. The critical tool here is a 3D printer which operates by laying down materials in a layer by layer fashion until a desired three-dimensional structure is built-up.  A key initial task in using a 3D printer is to generate a computer aided design (CAD)  of the part which needs to be manufactured by 3D printing. This can be done using CAD tools (such as SolidWorks, Creo Parametric, Auto CAD, AutoDesk suits etc.) or 3D scanners. The next step is to convert the CAD file into a standard tessellation language (STL) file format which is then digitally transcribed into a machine-readable format called a G-code. This code contains the complete plan of the print job essentially describing the movement of the print-head and time dependent accounting of the state of all instruments (temperature devices, gas pressure readers etc) coupled to the 3D printer.

There are 7 major types of 3D printing technologies each of which processes a specific kind of material (metals, polymers, ceramics, liquid resins, and composite).

Figure 2. Workflow for 3D printing technology

3D printing is not rocket-science and in my view it is one tool which Nigeria could easily implement for integration into the Industry 4.0 network.  Would-be operators of the 3D printer can be trained to expert level within 2 weeks making it possible to launch a new crop of work-force in a very short time to rapidly inject productivity-based gains into the economy.  With 3D printers it is possible to produce just about any engineering component technically conceivable.  Spare parts can be locally produced, obsolete parts can be fabricated then re-introduced into engineering systems and the creativity needed to drive our industrial sector forward can be accessible to as many people as possible.

There are 3 initiation points for a 3D printing technology policy in Nigeria;  the educational sector, the cottage industry sector and,  the oil & gas sector.

Here are my cases for each of these sectors:

Without a doubt 3D Printing will spur new economic growths around the world. Only countries that invest in bringing 3D printing technologies to their schools and colleges of higher education will reap the economic benefits.

There is a need to begin now to train young people for the development of skill-sets which can make a 3D printing driven industrialization process happen for Nigeria. Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) at schools and universities are key factors for industrial economic empowerment.  One way of strengthening the ability of young people to understand STEM is to make the fundamental principle of STEM come alive.

Here is how  3D printing helps:

1. Make abstract concepts tangible – e.g. visualizing 3-dimensional geometric objects and modeling chemical molecules

2. Enable authentic exploration of objects not readily available to schools – e.g. ancient structures and fossils

3. Help develop spatial intelligence – mentally generating, rotating, and transforming objects in

3 dimensions

4. Have broad cross-curricular applications – e.g. examining arts and relics related to our history (physics/history/ICT) or designing and marketing different kinds of products (art/design/economics/ICT)

5. Address key points in national curricula – planning projects, employing technologies, executing design tasks, sharing, examining, and reviewing work, etc.

6. Deeply engage ALL students – even those whose attention tends to drift

7. Stimulate students' imagination, creativity, and independent-thinking – providing many opportunities for self-directed projects and truly original creation

8. Prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow – whether in engineering, design, science, medicine, manufacturing, or economic management

9. Set the foundation of a creative (not consumptive) life – a generation that does not only buy but rather principally makes and sells.

Industrialization is a revenue generator. Only highly industrialized nations around the world are able to sell products and engineering driven commodities in volumes sufficient to make them rich. Attracting industrial activities in small economies such as in our states or local government areas will create jobs, breed a healthy population, reduce crime, provide social security and generate the revenues needed by government to fund different kinds of programs.

The development of cottage industries or technical capacities which can spur new economic growth is a strategic decision worth considering. It will yield savings on foreign exchange, on spending for expensive spare parts and give government the chance to spend on new programs.

The concept of cottage industry is still an economy driving enterprise.  In developed countries they are clearly characterized as small and medium scale enterprises (SME's).  For countries like Germany, China and India the SME's are at the core of industry driven national growth.  It is a model that works anywhere there is low scale, low cost production en-masse.  It drives exports and helps the big high energy industries succeed based on local content. Visit the road-side garages or inner city metal works areas located in different parts of Nigeria and one is convinced that with a fabrication tool like 3D printers the concentration of creative minds in Nigeria can be unleashed to formulate a new successful economy; an economy dominated by maker-communities digitally connected but located at different parts of our country.

Figure 3. Data transfers, digital connectivity driving remotely located printers fabricate on demand

In the oil & gas sector ageing facilities that must remain productive are under immense pressure to perform and deliver beyond conventional engineering expectations.  A known outcome of this situation is that parts fail unannounced at greater frequency. Oftentimes production is stopped either to quickly replace parts then continue operations or to altogether conduct a general shut-down to implement needed turn-around maintenance.

Obsolete parts may either be phased-out of the production plants or repaired for continual use on the plants. Therefore, facility managers are forced to depend on original equipment manufacturers (so-called OEMs) to supply production-critical parts on time in whatever quality. Entire schedules in oil & gas operations desperately depend on parts procurement and deployment.

With tools like3D printers, oil & gas production facilities can establish a certain level of independence from OEMs. The liquidity pressures the industry is currently experiencing can be eased by setting-up internal fabrication lines within production and service companies in the sector.  Giving their engineering sector the chance to innovate and to design new alternative components for the industry will help free servicing companies from delays and long waits due to inefficiencies in procurement.

The Nigeria oil & gas sector needs 3D printing technologies to help meet production targets, to resuscitate its aging plants and nurture production of finished parts in the country rather than relying on imports.

Nigeria needs to create a vibrant industrial sector characterized by SME's producing components for internal users and for export.  The weaknesses of our industries are well known; poor power supply, expensive or out-of-reach spare parts, insufficient skilled labour and poor access to development funding.  There is a huge African market for made-in-Nigeria goods, our job is to produce and supply to these marketplaces.  Industrialization is a critical step towards that supply chain.

How 3-D Printing Can Boost Nigeria's Economy