on August 13th, 2021

From schools to pedestrian safety, 3D printing is playing a role in education. In rural Malawi, going to school is not simple. Long walks with no reliable transport coupled with the lack of infrastructure create a scenario where dropping out of school is common. Now, 3D printing is changing that.

According to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, a newly established 3D classroom in the village of Salima in central Malawi is showing that 3D Printing is finally gaining its footing as an important part of infrastructure development, and education in the country. In Malawi, there’s an estimated 36,000 shortfall of available schools according to UNICEF and the introduction of concrete 3D Printing in 2021 is addressing that challenge. In a mere 15 hours, layered concrete is placed by a computer-controlled nozzle resulting in a single room classroom that can accommodate around 50 young minds. 

Large-scale 3D Printing for housing and other infrastructure started at the end of 2020 by 14Trees, a Holcim joint venture with CDC Group aimed at creating affordable and sustainable housing solutions. According to the CDC Group, the school shows that 3D printing can play a key role in the infrastructure gap when it comes to education by providing affordable and fast-build classrooms. Through 3D printing technology, 14Trees can optimize material use and speed up construction of homes and schools by 70% or more. As a demonstration14Trees’ first prototype home in Lilongwe, Malawi was built in just 12 hours. It also used concrete layers fed through a nozzle. Usually, similar construction would take up to four days to build with brick and mortar. 

The new school, however, was just the cherry on top, as education runs deep in this project. The 3D printing projects adds skilled job creation to the area since local Malawians are hired and trained to now be experts in the field. But the building projects also rely on local carpenters, roofers and other construction workers. The project would not have materialized without 14Trees teams from the area that were trained by Holcim and Construction of Buildings on Demand (Cobod), the company behind Europe’s first 3D printed building.

In Malawi, the BOD2 printer from Cobod is being used, and it offers an impressive list of features. The gantry-type printer operates with four Z-axis and three dimensions, with the printing nozzle moving on the X-axis from side to side. The X-axis moves along the Y-axis to allow a second direction for the nozzle to deliver concrete to the build. The Y-axis in turn moves up and down on the Z-Axis. The result is a printer that can operate in almost any direction within the printing area, which means once set up the BOD2 won’t need to be moved. The entire building can be printed within the area inside the axis. The speed of the BOD2 is up to 100 cm of concrete per second, which translates to 10 tons of concrete poured per hour.

What makes the project so noteworthy is the fact that Holcim and all the partners are aiming to provide green and smart alternatives in the building industry which can have a lasting impact on developing countries. According to Holcim, the company is aligning itself to become a net-zero company and establish itself as a global leader in recycling waste to use as a source of energy in the raw materials that will build 3D printed classrooms.

Last year Holcim announced another 3D printing project for concrete bases at wind turbines to aid the development of sustainable energy. According to the company, the first prototype printed in 2019 was a 10-meter high tower pedestal. The head of research and development at Holcim Edelio Bermejo said, “Concrete 3D printing is a very promising technology for us, as its incredible design flexibility expands the realm of construction possibilities.” 

But simple designs also have major pay-offs. A primary school advisor in Malawi, Juliana Kuphanga Chikandila, noted in one of CDC’s press releases shortly after the unveiling of the new school that it is its durability and design that really leaves a lasting impact in the area. The hope is also that its interesting construction will attract learners to school. 

Here are some other big ways 3D printing is helping the education sector or students in surprising ways:

Machines that print food

Factors such as and convenience and low cost have made students prone to take-away meals, but Israel’s Redefine Meat is changing the concept through 3D printed meat alternatives that are healthy and technologically advanced. These 3D printed quick-meals provide added nutrition for students who need balanced diets to be able to study effectively.

According to Redefine Meat, a combination of propriety 3D printing technology, digital modelling of traditional meat, extreme food formulations and bio-engineering they can produce animal-free meat with almost all the same characteristics of meat from animals.

Dutch company Upprinting Food is also in the new 3D technology race when it comes to nutrition. Founded in 2018 by Industrial Designer Elzelinde van Doleweerd, Upprinting Food, was her major research project to complete her Master’s degree. She wanted to show how advanced engineering and sustainable thinking can come together to create machines for restaurants that curb food waste. She developed a system that combines discarded food into filament that can then be printed. The designs are then baked and dehydrated and can be used in a variety of ways, including decoration.

While Elzelinde’s aim is to educate on food wastage, she also hopes 3D printers will becomes common in restaurants where chefs can use the blending technology to create new menu items.

Ride the 3D wave

As it stands 3D printing technology can provide transport authorities to design structures at a reduced cost. The world’s first 3D printed pedestrian bridge with micro-reinforced concrete opened in 2017 and showed how pedestrian safety can be achieved through printing. But that’s not the end of 3D printing’s role in transport.

The paper “A Study on 3D Printing and its Effects on the Future of Transportation” expects that 3D printing has a big role to play in the automotive industry by providing parts for automobiles and could reduce supply chain costs up to 90%. In February 2015 the multinational e-commerce company, Amazon, filed a patent application equipping trucks with 3D printers so products can be printed on-demand while it is being delivered. 

Students prints

Current EIT Master of Engineering student Hendrik van Heerden is showing the role of engineers when it comes to 3D printing. For the final year project of his EIT Bachelor of Science (Mechanical Engineering) degree in 2020, Hendrik created a 3D printed prosthetic arm that can be controlled via an electronic glove. He is currently continuing his work in his Master of Engineering in Mechanical.

“Since I have started with the robotic hand, it fascinated me a lot. My next step is to build fingers and a hand out of 3D printed bones which I can fit people who need such a limb or hand. Going forward I can then even 3D print the bones out of Titanium with a special metal 3D printer. Titanium is to be considered the most biocompatible metal that is not harmful or toxic to living tissue”, Hendrik says.

There’s no denying 3D printing is now fully-fledged in education in more than one aspect.


Thomas Reuters Foundation, 2021. Are 3D-printed schools a solution to Africa’s classroom shortage? [online] Available at: https://news.trust.org/item/20210712024819-khr9q

CDC Group, 2021. 14Trees pioneer’s 3D printing technology in Africa for affordable housing and schools. [online] Available at: https://www.cdcgroup.com/en/news-insight/news/14trees-pioneers-3d-printing-technology-in-africa-for-affordable-housing-and-schools/?fl=true

Fabbaloo, 2021. COBOD Using Real Concrete For Construction 3D Printing. [online] Available at: https://www.fabbaloo.com/news/cobod-using-real-concrete-for-construction-3d-printing?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=fabbaloo_daily_3d_printing_news&utm_term=2021-01-16

Redefine Meat, 2020. Redefine Meat’s Alt-Steak™ products begin market testing with selected high-end chefs ahead of full market availability in 2021. [online] Available at: https://www.prnewswire.com/il/news-releases/redefine-meat-unveils-world-s-first-alt-steak-tm-plant-based-products-using-industrial-3d-printing-864244423.html

Upprinting Food, 2020. Press Kit. [online] Available at: https://www.upprintingfood.com/press

Jumaah, Omar & Candidate, Doctoral & Szary, Patrick & Author. (2018). A Study on 3D Printing and its Effects on the Future of Transportation. CAIT/ Rutgers University. 

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