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Making a Difference: Mumbai Students Design, Develop, and 3D Print a Sanitary Pad Dispenser for School Project

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We’re going to talk about something that makes lots of people pretty uncomfortable, even though in my opinion it really shouldn’t. Take a deep breath – are you ready? Menstrual cycles and sanitary pads (GASP). For whatever reason, those words can often strike fear into the hearts of men and women, though obviously for very different reasons. Three years ago, a Shapeways designer 3D printed an attractive hidden pocket that could be used to store money and tampons on a night out, but that’s about it – it’s not a topic we hear a lot about in terms of 3D printing. But a group of female students from the Cathedral & John Cannon School in the Fort area of Mumbai are changing the conversation with their 3D printed pad dispenser.

Aditi Arya, Malini Dasgupta and Devika Malhotra built the dispenser as part of their school 3D printing project. [Image: The Indian Express]

Aditi Arya, Malini Dasgupta, and Devika Malhotra are Class XI students at the school, and designed and printed the dispenser as part of a project for their 3D printing course, which is being conducted by Curiosity Gym. The organization, which promotes ‘design thinking,’ got its start in 2015, and runs tinkering labs and makerspaces, called Innovation Hubs, in schools.

Part of the Hub is a module called IDEC (Innovation, Design and Entrepreneurship Club), where students can research a problem, have a meeting with stakeholders who are affected by the problem, run surveys and collate data, and work to develop solutions to fix the problem.

Students then design, build, and test out a prototype, which could incorporate elements of multiple solutions, and deploy the prototype, gathering feedback along the way. Program mentors help the students “take the solution prototype to the next level to build the solution at a higher scale.”

According to Girish Nair, the Curiosity Gym founder, children need to be taught about new technology, like 3D printing, at a young age, so they can learn how to adapt and eventually create products. Some of the objects created by the Curiosity Gym students include robots and lamps, fidget spinners, dog food dispensers, and now this novel 3D printed pad dispenser.

“We were aware that many girls don’t even have access to sanitary napkins and some even stay out of school during periods,” explained Arya. “Therefore, we decided to design a dispenser that can be built using the 3D printing technology.”

Students and their 3D printed sanitary pad dispenser with Principal Isaacs

Arya and her fellow students followed Curiosity Gym’s process – they explained the need to adopt better sanitary health practices, then conducted surveys and collected the results, before starting to develop their prototype. We’ve seen 3D printed dispensers before, for medication, toilet paper, and even Jelly Beans, but these are rare for feminine hygiene products (you can, for example, equip yourself with a tampon magazine thanks to Sexy Cyborg’s 3D printable design). Turning their idea into reality wasn’t easy for the students – they started out by studying similar machines and determining the proper mechanism, then sketching their designs.

Arya said, “It’s like a simple vending machine with a coil in a box vertically and pads go in the middle of it. The coil moves once and a pad is released.”

[Image: Curiosity Gym]

The students used the 123B 3D modeling app to validate their designs with software, and then built a cardboard prototype to understand the scale. After some modifications, they 3D printed a plastic prototype, and Curiosity Gym mentors helped the students find the necessary vendors for spring manufacturing, laser cutting, and electronic parts and assemblies. The students purchased, manufactured, and assembled the parts themselves, and after a few weeks of testing, programming, and changes, their 3D printed pad dispenser was ready for its alpha testing phase with a real user.

Their school principal, Meera Isaacs, was incredibly impressed when the girls showed off their 3D printed prototype, and after the successful test phase, the school decided to install the first product in one of its female student bathrooms.

Arya explained that one of the things her team learned during the process is that “one has to go through a trial and error process before hitting success.”

Arya said, “No idea is stupid. Only with many such ideas and a lot of brainstorming can we create something so effective.”

So what’s next for their 3D printed pad dispenser? The three students are planning to approach an NGO about their innovative and much-needed product.

Arya explained, “We have also put in a lot of thought on how to make the dispensers cost effective and easily operable.”

If their product can be fully deployed, it will be able to benefit underprivileged girls who can’t afford to purchase their own sanitary products. I’ll only touch briefly on how much this statement breaks my heart, and ask that if and when you donate food to your local food bank, you also include a bag or two of pads or other hygiene products for those in need. Once again, here is an example of hard work, creative thinking, and 3D printing technology making a very specific difference in the world. Discuss in the 3D Printed Sanitary Napkin Dispenser forum at 3DPB.com.

[Sources/Images: The Indian Express, Your Story]


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