Tech For Good – It Takes A (Tech-Savvy) Village | #education | #technology | #training

Innovation is generally a force for good, helping to accelerate economic growth and lifting living standards; digital-industrial innovation is a powerful example.

But it is uplifting to see innovation specifically targeted to do good. And this is exactly what 3DP4ME does: it leverages the power of 3D printing technology to produce affordable hearing aids. The pilot project starts in Jordan, and it starts with those most in need, including children.

Jason Szolomayer, founder and CEO of 3DP4ME, describes the project with a passion that is truly contagious and leaves you with no doubt that this effort will succeed. Jason launched 3DP4ME after a 10-year career in banking. The lack of hearing care in underserved populations jumped out at him as an enormous unmet need. “The World Health Organization estimated that in developed countries, less than 3% of people who need a hearing aid have one.” That statistic is so powerful he posted it on his LinkedIn profile. “In a developing country if you cannot hear, you cannot go to school, you cannot become a valuable member of society” stresses Szolomayer.

After a mentor who had started to tackle the problem challenged him to do more, Szolomayer quickly realized that given the scale of the unmet need, the priority was to find a scalable solution. 3D printing was the obvious answer: the technology allows for quick prototyping and easier customization – another essential requirement for hearing aids.

The challenge is not just big, however, it is complex. Building the right hearing aid requires correctly diagnosing the hearing problem of the patient, and audiology is a complex field. Jason therefore assembled an impressive team of experts in audiology, additive manufacturing, medical device manufacturing, design and intelligent manufacturing systems (just scroll the “Our Team” section of the website). It takes a (tech-savvy) village to make tech a force for good.

 3DP4ME has quickly been winning the help of high-profile collaborators: it has secured support from Intel
and Accenture
, support from BASF, and collaboration from Stanford University along with the Technical University of Munich. The Stanford Product Realization Laboratory offered to send Graduate Course Assistants to Jordan to help train engineers in integrated design and 3D printing techniques. Darryl Adams, Intel’s Director of Accessibility, explains why Intel decided to support the initiative: “Through our Intel RISE Technology Initiative (IRTI), Intel supports projects that help create a more responsible, inclusive & sustainable future enabled through our technology. We are thrilled to be collaborating with Accenture to help the team at 3DP4ME realize their mission to deliver modern solutions to address hearing loss in underserved communities.”

3DP4ME will soon start identifying the first 50 children (ages 6-10) for the pilot phase of its Hearing Express project. 3DP4ME will use state of the art 3D scanning to model, print and fit hearing aids for the 50 children. The ultimate goal is “To provide 12,000 hearing aids to 4,000 individuals who are in need of mono-lateral fitting and 4,000 individuals who are in need of bi-lateral fitting” thereby helping children access education, helping adults to be fully productive contributors to the country’s economic growth, and helping seniors enjoy full participation in society. The estimated cost of the 12,000 hearing aids come to $5 million. 

Beyond that, the scope for expanding 3DP4ME’s activities is as wide as the needs of vulnerable members of society. The company’s stated mission is “to serve real human needs with practical 3d printing.”

There is another important element to the picture, another way in which 3DP4ME can bring an important contribution to the communities it strives to help: by building 3D skills. Szolomayer notes “There is a budding 3D printing community in Jordan, including a FabLab with 3-month training programs. We hope to contribute to growing the 3D printing community, helping build engineering skills and strengthening the potential growth of the economy.”

 Creating a more diversified economy with a stronger manufacturing sector and a skilled local workforce is one of the key challenges for Jordan and other economies in the region – a crucial precondition for lifting living standards at a faster pace. The flexibility and efficiency of 3D printing, which allows cost-effective production at both small and large scale, offers a great opportunity to help build local manufacturing ecosystems. To help accelerate this virtuous process while using innovative technology to address basic health challenges would be a great achievement – and it would combine two powerful ways of building a stronger community.

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