The mantra that additive manufacturing is a multi-purpose technology capable of producing customised parts is most often associated with the industrial sphere, although it has applications that go far beyond this. For example, it is very useful as a tool to respond to the needs of people with disabilities, that is, to put technology at the service of social action.
This is the case of 3DLan , an association based in Bilbao whose aim is to identify and provide personalised services for people or groups that need a special solution due to their physical or intellectual condition. We talked to Alberto and Egoi about the implications of 3D printing in the social sphere, the process they use and what remains to be done.
Tandem of an artist and an engineer
TSL – Where did the idea for 3DLan come from?
3DLan – We conceived our idea as a project for the development of a technological and social platform for diversity. Alberto has a degree in Fine Arts and is passionate about technology, he has been tinkering with 3D printing machines at maker level for many years . Egoi is an engineer and has worked in industry, especially in innovation, development and technology watch .
From the sum of our knowledge and experience, we decided to constitute in 2016 the 3DLan association, in order to work on finding solutions for personal autonomy. We are 13 members, of which two of us are the ones who actively work for it, presenting projects to institutions or giving training workshops.
The association aims to make visible and raise awareness of the complexity of everyday situations faced by people with functional diversity. By taking advantage of new technologies, we can respond to social challenges.
“We rely on additive manufacturing to provide a solution to the challenges presented by the social sphere”.
Egoi Azkarraga, 3DLan
What kind of solutions do you provide?
We design and make all kinds of parts that make life easier for people with disabilities. The cases can range from everyday tasks as basic as feeding oneself to sporting activities. Personalisation and the particular needs of each person make more sense than ever in our case.
As we are in permanent contact with associations, we can quickly identify these needs and adapt them through an iterative and totally customised process. The fields we reach are diverse, from people with reduced mobility to applications for Paralympic athletes.
Design through an open and participative process
How do you carry out the design and development of ideas?
The idea comes to us from associations, hospitals or rehabilitation centres, as they are the ones who first identify the specific need and provide us with the necessary information. These requirements will tell us which technology we are going to use or which material is ideal for the application.
We work with OnShape, a software that allows files to be uploaded to the cloud and partially edited. We consider that part of our work consists of dissemination, and if we have managed to provide an answer to a problem, other people should be able to take advantage of it, adapting it to their particular casuistry.
Once the design is validated, we manufacture it and put it into service. If improvements are detected, the file is retouched and reprinted, and so on. This is the advantage of being able to make unitary parts thanks to additive manufacturing.
“One of the great challenges is to raise awareness of the impact of additive manufacturing in increasing the autonomy of people with disabilities”.
Alberto Martínez, 3D Lan
What additive manufacturing technologies do you use?
Ours is a small workshop and we have FDM printers, with which we can make prototypes very quickly at a low cost. We work with the classic thermoplastics of this technology such as ABS or PLA, although we are in contact with centres such as Leartiker  for the development of more advanced materials suitable for our applications.
When we require more industrial technologies such as SLS or metal, we turn to the rich Basque industrial fabric, both private companies and training centres. In many cases we involve students in the creation process, thus educating future professionals in the manufacturing sector both technically and socially.
What are the challenges in this field?
Perhaps the most important and most complex challenge is the dissemination of projects such as ours. Getting the message across to society and making the situation of people with disabilities visible is vital. To do this, we use social networks, associations and foundations to convey our social vision of technology.
There is undoubtedly an economic factor at play, which is why another challenge is to be present in public or private calls for proposals, as they play a dual role: to give us a voice and financial support. Likewise, we cannot forget the contributions of the volunteers around us, who support us monetarily, technically or communicatively.