INNOVATE

This Cambodian Start-up Is Creating 3D Printed Prosthetics for Land Mine Victims

ARC Hub PNH is changing the lives of Cambodians one 3D printed object at a time

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BY Tricia V. Morente - 11 Apr 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Fifty-one-year-old Bun Vibol is getting used to working with two hands again. One among the estimated 40,000 amputees in a country that has one of the highest landmine casualty rates in the world, Vibol had lost his right hand when he fought in Cambodia’s Civil War 30 years ago.

Today, thanks to 3D printing technology, Vibol’s got his right hand back.

What’s even cooler is Vibol’s hand is made of biodegradable plastic and corn. And by simply moving his shoulders, he can easily reach out and grab the nearest object or even use his hand for writing. “It’s the first time I’ve had a hand like this,” relates Vibol in this video, laughing good-naturedly. “I feel like I was born again,” he adds.

 

Meet the culprit

Vibol is one among the 25 beneficiaries of a collaboration between Canadian NGO Victoria Hand Project and ARC Hub PNH, a Cambodian start-up specializing in 3D printing technology. The Victoria Hand Project designed the prosthetics, which ARC Hub PNH produced in its headquarters in Cambodia. Each hand took 40 hours to print and assemble, and only cost $320 each—significantly cheaper than a traditional prosthetic.

According to Cambodian-American co-founder Ki How Tran, the initiative is ARC Hub PNH’s pilot project in creating 3D printed medical devices. “When I started ARC Hub PNH, it was difficult figuring out the best way to utilize 3D printing. You have this technology that can create countless things, but what do you create? What’s something that will show people the potential of 3D printing and help them understand how beneficial it can be? As time went on, I saw news about kids 3D printing prosthetics for kids, and it became clear to me what we should focus on: prosthetics and education,” shares Tran.

Founded in 2013 when Tran moved to Cambodia from Los Angeles, California, ARC Hub PNH remains “the sole 3D printing company in Cambodia.” Tran, who shares he’s always had a passion for making and designing things, saw the potential of 3D printing technology when his brother Ki Chong sent him an article about 3D printing airplane parts.

“We realized how this new innovative technology could revolutionize the way the world makes things, but we were saddened that it most likely wouldn’t be available in Cambodia for a long time,” Tran relates.

Frustrated about how “countries like Cambodia always had to play ‘catch up’ with the rest of the world,” the Tran brothers decided to break the cycle and put Cambodia at the forefront of the technology. “We decided to form a 3D printing business that would allow Cambodians to learn, make use of, and be the leaders in 3D printing,” shares Tran.

 

Lean and mean

What started as a small business operating out of the Tran brothers’ apartment in Phnom Pehn has since grown into a team of five based in Cambodia’s first MakerSpace, which the brothers currently help facilitate and run.

“As the company grew, so did Ki Chong and I. We learned so much about the country our parents are from, and have learned to call Cambodia home. There are amazing people in this country who are motivated, driven, and share the same revolutionizing ideas we do—they just need the opportunity to prove what they can accomplish,” states Tran.

According to Tran, Cambodians have really taken on 3D printing. “I’ve had a lot of people contacting us to ask if 3D printing would be the best solution to make something—of course, it isn’t suitable to make all things but there is an effort on the part of Cambodians now to try to utilize the technology,” he shares.

These days, guided by their mission to “integrate 3D printing into Cambodia” concurrently as the rest of world explores the technology, one of ARC Hub PNH’s more noble initiatives has been to help develop a 3D design curriculum encouraging students to learn STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).

“We’re working with the Cambodian Children’s Fund (CCF) on this,” says Tran, who shares he taught the first few classes with the help of a CCF assistant. “I taught my assistant how to use the 3D design software and how to continue teaching the curriculum. Today, he has his own 3D printing/3D design classroom in a new high-tech school created for the Cambodian Children’s Fund,” he says.

Through ARC Hub PNH, Trans says Cambodians are now able to learn new skills in Computer Aided Design and Manufacturing, which will “hopefully lead to better careers.” He adds, “We’re also keen on helping Cambodians bring their product ideas to life through prototyping with 3D printing, with the goal of creating a final product they can sell in the global market.”