As 3D printing technology gains grip across the globe, it grants Africa a clean slate to edit the prevailing development narrative. Africa has exhibited a puzzling development paradox – a matrix of high growth in the midst of high unemployment levels. Pundits have observed on several occasions that there is a possibility of Africa taking a different route towards economic transition leapfrogging the industrial revolution. However, underdevelopment and poverty as a result of unprecedented levels of unemployment still cast a dark shadow over the rather impressive growth figures. To make matters worse, automation is posing a serious threat to Africa’s burgeoning youth. Technology is reducing the marginal cost of production to nearly zero. Low wages will no longer be a bargaining chip to outsource production. Realization of Africa’s demographic dividend is hinged on the adoption of technology that will support manufacturing and solidify the industrial base.

In the wake of 3D printing technology, the zeitgeist seems to have smiled on the continent. Reigning on acute unemployment and underdevelopment could actually mean accelerating the adoption of 3D printing. This technology has the potential to bolster manufacturing in more viable ways and the sector being labor intensive, towering unemployment levels could be tamed. Transitioning to high-value manufacturing is vital. This will improve Africa’s value chains and reduce some of the challenges posed by inefficient supply chains due to poor infrastructure. 3D printing can complement conventional high volume manufacturing while supporting lower volume manufacturing at the same time. Although some argue that startups could move manufacturing in-house due to 3D printing’s cost-effectiveness, there is still room for 3D printing in new product areas.

3D printing is set to transform the lives of millions of low-income sub-Saharan Africans. Early adopters of 3D printing technology in Africa are applying the technology to healthcare. The outcome is set to benefit the millions living without medical cover. From printing prosthetic limbs and implants to printing devices that test people for malaria in remote areas, 3D is reducing the cost of treatment. 3D technology is being used to build low-cost housing units and there are plans going on to print villas in Egypt.

Lowering the costs of basic commodities will play a critical role in changing the social welfare of the poverty stricken populace in sub-Saharan Africa’s rural areas. Once the floodgates are opened and new players get into Africa’s 3D market, what this technology can do could be revolutionary.

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