Additive manufacturing, drones, use automation for humanitarian benefit

Using automation for humanitarian benefit was the focus of Dr. Julielynn Wong’s presentation at the 2018 A3 Business Forum. Additive manufacturing and drone technologies were highlighted to help those in remote geographical or economic situations, including space travel.
By Mark T. Hoske, CFE Media January 19, 2018

Making medical supplies with 3-D printers can considerably lower costs and increase access, according to Dr. Julielynn Wong at the 2018 A3 Business Forum. Courtesy: Mark T. Hoske, Control Engineering, CFE MediaTwo hot topics in automation, 3-D printers and drones, allow Dr. Julielynn Wong, MD, MPH founder, chairman, and CEO of 3D4MD, and others to help those who wouldn’t have received help were it not for those rapidly advancing automation applications. Wong, who has received patents for more than 30 medical devices, was among keynote speakers at the 2018 A3 Business Forum in Orlando.

Automation technologies used in 3-D printing include: sensors, actuators, motion controllers, motors, a network, a human-machine interface, and software to translate the 3-D object map into motion coordinates.

Automation technologies used in drones may include: motion controllers, motors, sensors, vision system, actuators, global position system, human-machine interface (which may include augment reality display and or smartphone interface), and wireless communications, and onboard networking.

Working in affinity for space exploration into many of her projects and those she highlighted, Wong challenged assembled automation leaders (about 650 were expected at the meeting) to sponsor a 3-D printer make-a-thon to address a humanitarian need.

A side benefit, she suggested, is that doing do often attracts an equal number of women and men and often appeals to younger talent that automation-minded companies try to attract and retain. 

3-D printing projects, applications

Wong brought a 3-D printer, which she called her "Star Trek replicator," to the presentation, and immediately set it to work on stage printing a part. Technology advances have progress making printers smaller in recent years; she now can tote the printer in her R2-D2 carryon luggage.

She showed photos of a photo of her in a Star Trek uniform, software that transformed the image into 3-D coordinates, and a model of the image made from her replicator. The 3-D photo was from a studio that uses 134 high-res cameras in one shot to make a model. She also showed a video of the first such replicator making part of itself, so it was partially self-replicating.

In 2015, while listening in on astronaut communications on the International Space Station (ISS), someone said, "I wish I had a tool of this size." Two weeks later, NASA was uploading our digital file to the ISS. In space, it’s easier to have digital files than actual parts or tools for every possibility, especially for longer missions. (NASA 3-D Resources, 2015)

Lower cost materials are among cost savings associated with additive manufacturing of medical supplies, according to Dr. Julielynn Wong at the 2018 A3 Business Forum. Courtesy: Mark T. Hoske, Control Engineering, CFE MediaWhen used for health care, low-cost 3-D printing may mean more patients get care more quickly, especially in areas that typically may not have specialized medical care. 

The idea was proven in veterinary prosthetics for a rescue dog with growth deformities in its hind legs. The vet sent Wong CTC scan, she converted it to 3-D printable models and sent the file to a 3-D printing service near the vet for practice prior to surgery and another set for teaching students, Wong said.

Astronauts cannot take everything needed into space, but they can bring or uplink 3-D files for medical supplies. A custom finger splint for broken finger, with holes for skin breathing, can be printed in space. Surgical tools printed here could have been printed for an emergency appendectomy on Mars, or for 5 billion people on earth who lack surgical care.

A solar-powered suitcase-sized 3-D printer might be used to help 1.1 billion people by fitting it inside carry-on to avoid extra bag fee.

Wong also had opportunity to try other medical devices in a in a simulated mission to an asteroid through from NASA.

In a photo of a simulated Mars mission, an exercise bike doubled as a generator to recharge a 3-D printer’s batter. Also, Wong noted, waste from a 3-D printer can be recycled and converted into new 3-D printing material with recycling device.

More about 3-D printable medical supplies is available at

Further, Wong noted, no government grants or tax dollars were used in the effort, inspiring the group to make its own mission patch. Photo.

A splint for a hand injury, if custom fit, increased use, and decreased long-term hand disabilities. Entire countries are without a hand therapist. The splint cost can be reduced further by incorporating up to 25% recycled plastic.

It’s estimated more than 1 billion people have a disability, and many need assistive devices. In the U.S., 57 million people have disabilities; 3-D printed assistive devices can save time and money. For children, prosthetic hand replacements as they grow are unreasonably expensive; 3-D printed prosthetic hands, designed by college students, cost $25.

A hand therapist in Canada called about finger split replacements; a missed day of work can be avoided when a file is transferred and a replacement is printed for $2 at a public library.

Helping quality of life for multiple sclerosis patients, 3-D printed cup holders were designed to fit the myriad of configurations of wheelchairs. These, too, can be printed at a library for $2.

As diabetes patients age, they may lose the ability to inject themselves because of hand ailments; a $1 3-D printed syringe handle may avoid homecare nurses visits for diabetes care with a huge cost savings to the healthcare system.

Similarly, a high school student designed a 3-D printed grip ball for any pen, avoiding the need to purchase expensive pens that require expensive proprietary refill cartridges. It can double as a stress ball and clown nose, Wong noted.

Anyone can innovate now because smartphones can serve as a 3-D scanner, 3-D design software is free, and 3-D printers are accessible.

Wong’s first 3-D effort for a medical device was a simple stethoscope based on an early design. As she was getting ready to test, she found out a 15-year-old high school student made a 3-D printed case to turn a smartphone into stethoscope.  

Drone projects and applications

Drone technology also is widely accessible and have potential to help, especially those 1 billion who live less than $2 per day. Drone-related jobs are many.

For example, real-estate agents use aerial photographs to enhance a sale. They’re also used in movie making. Lighted drone demonstrations are being used instead of fireworks. Drones are also being used to clear mines which kill or disable many people every year. A tree-planting drone company shoots seedlings into the ground. Researchers have used drones for gray whale research and have learned they protect other species from shark attacks.

Peanut butter pellets are used to feed starving prairie dogs, which in turn feed the dwindling populations of black-footed ferrets.

Creating a contest for humanitarian benefits can be appealing for automation-minded younger people, suggested Dr. Julielynn Wong at the 2018 A3 Business Forum. Courtesy: Mark T. Hoske, Control Engineering, CFE MediaDrones are used to speed drugs, such as antivenom (to remote areas reducing response time from 6 hours in some places to just 45 minutes), as well as transport for lab samples, medical supplies and food in critical situations. An estimated 1 billion people have tuberculosis; faster transport for diagnosis can reduce the spread of this disease. Other drones are used to prevent drowning, for defibrillator delivery with instructions for use in emergencies, for blood delivery to reduce maternal death after childbirth, and infrared use to find automobile crash victims that wander, confused in the cold.

In other drone developments, ESPN purchased drone races and a $150,000 prize is available. The University of Florida is working on a race for mind-control drones. #UAVs4Good Half of medical device makers are women. 

Sponsoring a medical make-a-thon to address a humanitarian need can help decrease the 9-months average wait for resources in field and help Doctors Without Borders and other humanitarian missions. She noted a mission to resupply Mars explorers would be about the same. See more about the A3 Business conference

Mark T. Hoske is content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media,

Online extras

Also from the 2018 A3 Business Forum, see: Automation startups for robotics, vision, machine monitoring, and talent

Control Engineering has a robotics page

A Control Engineering Digital Report on machine vision is available