There have been a number of films in which landmines have played a role, from Tropic Thunder to Land of Mine, and a close call by a family who in 2015 unknowingly stumbled upon, and took pictures with, a mine on a beach in Wales, and yet, most of us wouldn’t recognize a landmine if we saw it. For many people, that’s no big deal, but for those living in some of the areas littered with the world’s approximately 100 million unexploded mines, being able to recognize one can be the difference between life and death. It is estimated that every 20 minutes, someone is injured by coming into contact with a landmine, and those aren’t statistics for soldiers in war zones. Instead, that figure includes a large number of civilians in areas that either are active war zones, such as Syria, or in locations where the mines were placed as part of struggles that ended years ago.

There are a number of active efforts to locate and dispose of unexploded landmines, such as a program in Cambodia, a country with nearly two million landmines spread out over its territory, that utilizes Gambian giant pouched rats to sniff out the mines for controlled removal. Such programs are not currently feasible in Syria where there is an ongoing conflict. Instead, the Syrian Defense Force, commonly referred to as the White Helmets, have taken it upon themselves to locate and decommission unexploded ordnance. In a drive to help them with their efforts, 3D LifePrints, a UK-based 3D printing organization, has been creating life-sized 3D printed replicas of landmines and ordnance most likely to be encountered in Syria. They then provide these models to the White Helmets to assist them in training their members to recognize the deadly objects.

It’s not just organizations working to remove the landmines that are benefitting from the models. People living in areas where they are likely to come across weapons such as these can also benefit greatly from the ability to recognize them for what they are. Luke Irving, COO of Mayday Rescue, an NGO operating in Istanbul, described the benefits of the models:

“3D LifePrints have provided us with an innovative and versatile product. The designed and printed models of UXO and landmines are to scale and look very realistic. This has been hugely helpful in our efforts to educate communities in Syria effected by explosive remnants of war, on the dangers associated with them.”

3D LifePrints earns their keep by manufacturing 3D printed products for the medical industry, but they have earned their stripes for their humanitarian efforts in providing prosthetic limbs to those in need and for working with agencies, such as the United Nations Mine Action Service and the International Committee of the Red Cross Weapons Humanitarian Department, to provide these landmine removal training aids. They do this through a UK government funded NGO and have provided their models to agencies in Turkey, Mali, Ethiopia, Iraq and other nations with active ordinance disposal needs.

The replicas themselves are created on desktop 3D printers using 3D LifePrints’ own bespoke 3D printing filament. Their filament is designed to live up to the particularly harsh conditions to which their prints are regularly subjected. For example, the naturally occurring 2% moisture absorption rates in PLA caused degradation of the models in humid conditions and excess temperatures also caused conventional filaments to warp and deform.

Something else that makes 3D printing a particularly appropriate method for sharing these educational models is the fact that the file can be developed in one location and then printed locally close to where it is needed. This is important because transporting even these explosives-free models can raise a number of flags and throw up difficult barriers to their delivery. In a time when it is difficult to board a plane with more than three ounces of shampoo, just imagine trying to go through security and customs with what look exactly like seriously dangerous weapons.

The ability of 3D printing to help save lives is a particularly impressive aspect of this technology, and one that is all too often overlooked in the flood of news about its applications for commercial production, hobbyist DIY activities, and sensationalized reports of gun production. There should be more space in the news for profoundly important efforts such as this, as Paul Fotheringham, Founder and Chief Technology Officer at 3D LifePrints advocated:

“There is a lot of talk about 3D printing weapons including real guns and even grenades. For once we can happily report on using 3D printing for humanitarian purposes to combat issues related to conflict, where products are made to save lives instead of taking them. It would be nice if this type of initiatives had the same massive media coverage as (hardly functional) 3D printed weapons that have the potential to endanger the lives of people.”

We here at 3DPrint.com would like to do our part to help advance the goals of truly consequential efforts such as this one as landmines remain a major issue around the world and technology is creating new means to help. By recognizing the impacts being made through the creation of these models, hopefully others will also join the work to not just make, but to make things that matter.

What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts; join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share  your thoughts below.

[Images: 3D LifePrints]

 

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