Designing Products for Refugees Using 3D Printing

by Morgan Hamel on December 12, 2017

Scott Key and Sam Brisendine first met as students at the Rice University College of Architecture, where they ended up coming up with the idea for their future company. It would come to be called Good Works Studio.

Good Works Studio’s first product, Emergency Floor, came from a class project they worked on together. They designed a Swiss Army Knife-esque crate filled with useful items that could be shipped to refugee camps. But they found that the most coveted item from the crate turned out to be the crate itself, which broke down to create a flooring setup to get families off the dirt.

Scott and Sam decided that they would run with this feedback and focus solely on flooring.

After graduation, they each went on to work at product design firms and started their own on the side. Good Works Studio was born.

Their mission is to create products to better the lives of families living in refugee camps, starting with Emergency Floor. A modular flooring system that can be configured to different shelter layouts, the goal of the flooring is to insulate families from cold nighttime temperatures while also reducing the likelihood of contracting illnesses from living in the dirt. They’ve begun installing the flooring in refugee camps in Iraq and Lebanon, with good results and positive feedback from families.

With one successful product launch under their belt, they were eager to tackle the next problem they had identified in the camps: the heat.

Just as the shelters can become iceboxes at night when the desert temperatures drop, they turn into insulated saunas in the daytime when the sun comes out. They began investigating ways to effectively air condition the shelters with no access to electricity.

The other hurdle they had to clear was the actual process of designing such a product. The prototyping process can be a time-consuming and expensive one, especially when you’re contracting out to a third party firm to create your prototypes. Designing a product was going to be financially impossible without an in-house prototyping method.

This is where Scott and Sam found their way to 3D printing.

Scott stumbled upon a giveaway run by Gigabot 3D printer manufacturer re:3D called the Gigaprize. For every 100 bots the company sells, they run a competition to give one away to an organization who will use it for good. Good Works Studio found themselves as the winner of Gigabot #400.

3D printing has opened product design doors for Good Works, making the production of their second product feasible. They’re working on a design that will utilize the Venturi Effect  to cool and circulate air into shelters when temperatures rise in the desert. Using Gigabot to iterate, they are bypassing weeks to months of time working with an external company to get prototypes made, not to mention the thousands of dollars that can come with getting a mold made for a design that later needs to be tweaked.

The technology is allowing this two-man design firm to join the playing field of other nonprofits and organizations with much more capital and resources, with the intent of elevating the standard of living of millions of people living in refugee camps around the world.

It’s a lofty goal that the two of them are excited to tackle. As Sam puts it simply, “Design can do good for those who can’t afford it.”

re:3D has launched their latest Gigaprize contest this week. Follow them on Instagram and Facebook for details.

About the author: Morgan Hamel is the storyteller for 3D printing company re:3D, which makes the large-scale Gigabot printer discussed in this article. She is excited about the doors that 3D printing opens for organizations like Good Works Studio which are striving to better the world.

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