Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, is revolutionizing manufacturing across many industries, making customization more affordable and allowing for rapid design iteration. Humanitarian aid organizations can make drastic improvements to their supply chain by embracing this technology for both its capacity for customization and its on-demand production capabilities. Oxfam International, a charitable organization dedicated to eliminating global poverty, has experimented with 3D printers in providing aid after natural disasters, and is an excellent example of how this technology can improve speed and quality of emergency aid.
Emergencies such as natural disasters and war create immediate need for goods in areas with rudimentary or compromised infrastructure, which complicates all aspects of the supply chain, including procurement, shipping, storage, and distribution. Rapidly acquiring the correct goods and delivering them to disaster-struck areas commonly results in aid arriving days after it was needed with some goods broken or missing. In moving supply much closer to the point of demand, additive manufacturing impacts and streamlines each part of the supply chain. It eliminates waste created by delivering unnecessary goods, increases the speed of delivery, and decreases shipping costs. It is estimated that “60 to 80 per cent of the cost of humanitarian aid is spent on logistics,” each year, meaning that there is opportunity for additive manufacturing to divert billions of dollars from delivery costs to actual aid.
Oxfam International began experimenting with using additive manufacturing to delivery aid in 2015, in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Nepal. Many villages had lost their only source of clean water due to broken water pipes, and while standard aid packages included pipe repair kits, often there were pieces that were missing, broken, or incompatible with the local pipes. Typically, locals would “fashion their own insecure connections using bamboo, plastic bags or rubber from tires, which lead to loss of pressure at the taps and potentially to contamination of the water supply.” By using a 3D printer to create new parts that fit perfectly, Oxfam removed waste from its process in two ways. First, it decreased the time to repair the water system from multiple days to two to three hours, and second, by preserving the clean water source, it reduced the need for medical treatment and clean water, freeing up both money and space for Oxfam to use on other vital aid.
While Oxfam’s implementation of additive manufacturing had an immediate impact on communities and the organization’s logistics costs, there are both opportunities and challenges in continuing to use this technology. Providing disaster aid is a good start, but a larger impact can be made by embedding 3D printing technology into local communities for long-term use. Oxfam has plans to train local residents to operate the printers, with the assumption that even outside of times of disaster, having the ability to create custom parts and medical supplies locally would save time for residents and continue to streamline the organization’s supply chain. However, Oxfam will need to overcome some significant hurdles including cost and durability of the printers and the training of users. As adoption of additive manufacturing increases, costs of the technology will likely drop, so Oxfam should focus on training community members to use the printers. As many of these communities don’t have regular access to computers, Oxfam will need to train users not only to use the printers, but also the computers. The best course of action is to keep the process simple in the beginning, with users being trained to print a few items, and then accessing online trainings to learn the computer modeling skills necessary to create more customized printable designs.
With logistics challenges acting as a key bottleneck in the delivery of humanitarian aid, additive manufacturing has the potential to drastically improve access to clean water and healthcare by streamlining the supply chain of aid organizations. The possibilities are endless, but with limited resources for implementation, a few questions remain. Why will villages adopt this technology over alternative low-tech solutions that they have traditionally used? Is Oxfam’s strategy to focus on training community members in 3D printing going to provide enough of a short-term impact to make the investment worthwhile?
 Deloitte Insights, “3D opportunity for life: Additive manufacturing takes humanitarian action,” [https://www2.deloitte.com/insights/us/en/deloitte-review/issue-19/3d-printing-for-humanitarian-action.html], accessed November 2018.
 UN Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs, “Shrinking the Supply Chain: Hyperlocal Manufacturing and 3D printing in Humanitarian Response” (PDF File), downloaded from OCHA website, https://www.unocha.org/sites/unocha/files/Shrinking%20the%20Supply%20Chain.pdf, Accessed November 12, 2018
 Peter Tatham, Jennifer Loy, and Umberto Peretti, “3D printing (3DP): A humanitarian logistic game changer?,” paper presented at the 12th ANZAM Operations, Supply Chain, and Services Management Symposium, 2014, http://docs.business.auckland.ac.nz/Doc/Tatham-anzamsymposium2014_submission_104-final.pdf.
 Kelli Rogers, “In Nepal, Oxfam earmarks earthquake respond funds for 3-D printing,” Devex International Development, November 14, 2016, [https://www.devex.com/news/in-nepal-oxfam-earmarks-earthquake-response-funds-for-3-d-printing-89110], accessed November 2018.
 Tatham et al., 2014.
 Rogers, 2016.
 OCHA, 2015.