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3D Printing of Disaster Relief Tools and Shelters, and R&D Tax Credits

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As measured by the ACE index, September 2017 has become the most active month on record for Atlantic hurricanes. Category 5 Hurricanes Irma and Maria, and Category 4 Hurricane Jose have left billions of dollars in damages to heavily populated areas on the Gulf Coast and Atlantic coasts, due to severe flooding and sustained maximum wind speeds. Unfortunately, impoverished areas are disproportionately impacted by natural disasters because civilians live in more vulnerable environments. With less durable structures, catastrophic events can leave families displaced for weeks or even months with limited food and water supplies.

In the wake of natural disasters such as these, first responders are hard at work providing much needed disaster relief to these grief-stricken communities. 3D printing has tremendous potential to aid in on-site humanitarian efforts. The ability to print small items from medical supplies to shelters can provide both immediate and long-term assistance to people in need.

The Research & Development Tax Credit

Enacted in 1981, the federal Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credit allows a credit of up to 13% of eligible spending for new and improved products and processed s. Qualified research must meet the following four criteria:

  • Technological in nature
  • New or improved products, processes, or software
  • Elimination of uncertainty
  • Process of experimentation

Eligible costs include employee wages, cost of supplies, cost of testing, contract research expenses, and costs associated with developing a patent.  On December 18, 2015, President Obama signed the bill making the R&D Tax Credit permanent. Beginning in 2016, the R&D credit can be used to offset Alternative Minimum tax and start-up businesses can utilize the credit against $250,000 per year in payroll taxes.

Containerized Disaster Relief

3D printing offers a practical solution for containerized disaster relief efforts. 3D printers have the ability to operate in the event of a natural disaster as car batteries or generators that are stocked at larger facilities can power them. Similarly, hospitals can install 3D printers and connect them to their generators on-site. These solutions offer cheaper on demand support for hospitals and other humanitarian organizations, while making disaster relief an easier process.

Based in Central Florida, Millebot Inc developed a portable manufacturing platform built within a shipping container. The Millebot combines additive manufacturing and subtractive manufacturing to process multiple materials including but not limited to aluminum, steel, plastics and composites. Not to mention it can easily be shipped anywhere around the world by sea or rail without any damaged parts. This makes disaster relief an ideal application for the innovative printing and milling unit. With servo motors and electronics built right into the shipping container, basic disaster relief items can be 3D printed and milled on a greater than average scale. Furthermore, because the Millebot can be easily transported, relief packages for civilians can be produced on the scene of disaster-stricken locations, providing those in need with instant, affordable care.

3D Printing Tools

Some companies and groups are expanding their initiatives to provide disaster relief aid by making humanitarian supplies on location post-disaster. Field Ready, a non-profit organization with an approach that works across humanitarian sectors with the help of partnerships, specializes in making, manufacturing, fabricating and repairing useful items in difficult environments where need is greatest. This involves providing CAD design, rapid tooling and CNC, and injection molding as well as other techniques used in conjunction with 3D printing. Desktop 3D printers are used to produce items on demand, with speed and resolution providing disaster affected areas with relief while decreasing exposure to illness, injuries and death. In this way, 3D printing can be utilized to supply basic necessities like medical tools and materials needed to treat patients until a steady stream of aid is available.

In 2010 a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti, affecting the lives of an estimated three million people. Hurricane Tomas followed in the catastrophe-stricken area and worsened the existing cholera epidemic. The introduction of 3D printing in Haiti helped architects and engineers provide greatly needed infrastructure and clinical relief. Field Ready was able to print supplies such as screwdrivers, pipe clamps and bottles. The company is now mobilizing efforts in the Caribbean, helping the most devastated areas by assisting with repairs and producing critical items.

3D Printing Shelters

The many improvements in additive manufacturing technologies provide an opportunity for disaster housing. According to an article published in ScienceDirect, post-disaster reconstruction efforts usually lack access to adequate human resources. 3D printing has the power to change this.

An Italy-based company called World’s Advanced Saving Project (WASP) has created a massive 3D printer that is able to make earthen houses using eco-friendly materials such as dirt, clay and plant fibers.  Standing at 40 feet tall and 20 feet wide, the printer uses ancient building techniques coupled with new technology to produce affordable green homes. The company has already successfully 3D printed low-cost homes in the province of Ravenna, Italy. This technology has the ability to efficiently provide relief in the form of shelter to those who have lost their homes in the event of a natural disaster.

Apis Cor has developed a mobile construction 3D printer which is capable of printing whole buildings completely on-site. The company seeks to change the construction industry and present millions of people with the opportunity to improve their living conditions as never possible before. The automation of the construction process by way of 3D printing can do just that; it will become faster and more efficient without sacrificing quality as the risk of human error is almost eliminated entirely.

As of February 2017, the company built their first 3D printed house in the Moscow Region. The self-bearing walls, partitions and building envelope were printed in only 24 hours. Although the structure is one story, the printer has proven to possess flexibility and diversity when it comes to design. Because of additive technology, the house can be any shape which is advantageous for sustainable design. The portability and efficiency of this innovative 3D printer has great potential for fast and environmentally friendly reconstruction efforts in the aftermath of a natural disaster.


Introducing 3D technology to developing nations that have experienced natural disasters will help victims rebuild their lives. Innovative additive manufacturing has the potential to quickly produce much needed relief in the form of low cost supplies, tools and housing for those affected. Today, US companies, engineers, and other individuals engaging in research and development of 3D printed disaster relief packs, tools and shelters may be eligible for federal and state R&D tax credits to stimulate their efforts.

In addition, it could help the world’s most vulnerable and the victims of catastrophes to rebuild their lives.

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at or share your thoughts below. 


Charles R. Goulding and Alizé Margulis of R&D Tax Savers discuss 3D printing and disaster relief.


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