Social Entrepreneurs’ Use of Fab Labs and 3D Printing in South Africa and Kenya

Schonwetter, Tobias
Van Wiele, Bram
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This article outlines findings from a study in South Africa and Kenya that explored social entrepreneurs’ use of fabrication laboratories (fab labs), and in particular fab lab 3D printing services, in order to advance their social innovations and enterprises. Based on interviews with representatives of fab lab initiatives and social enterprises, the study found strong linkages between social entrepreneurship and fab labs, and between social entrepreneurs and the use of 3D printing technology. However, it was also found that social entrepreneurs tend not to rely primarily on fab labs for access to 3D printers, preferring to buy and build their own printer units—a practice made cost-effective through the selection of low-cost, open source models. In respect of the computer-aided design (CAD) software used to design the files for 3D printing, it was found that social entrepreneurs prefer the stability and user-friendliness of proprietary CAD software, despite the cost implications. At the same time, it was found that social entrepreneurs frequently use free and open source CAD files available online, and that they seek, in turn, to share their designs on a free and open source basis.
Schonwetter, T., & Van Wiele, B. (2020). Social entrepreneurs’ use of fab labs and 3D printing in South Africa and Kenya.The African Journal of Information and Communication (AJIC), 26, 1-24.