Sep 29, 2015

Minesweeping- 3D Printing Helps Clear the Way


Landmines. Every month, 1200 people are maimed, and a further 800 killed throughout the world due to landmines. Landmine removal efforts are clearing about 100,000 mines a year, but at rate it will still be over 1000 years to get them all. The cost of clearing them is huge, with estimates in excess of $50 billion. Worse still, for every 5000 mines cleared, one person will die in the process.

There are over 110 million active landmines all around the world. To put it in context, there is approximately 57 million square miles of land. This means that there are nearly two mines for every one square mile of earth. Of course, the mines are not scattered evenly, with countries like Cambodia having a much higher concentration- 6 million mines to only 112,489 square miles of land- a much scarier 53 mines in a square mile.

But minesweepers have found themselves an unlikely ally in the fight to clear the planet of these dreadful things. Using 3D printing, J. Kim Vandiver and Allen Tan have been working on a way to print demining training aids. Mines are very hard to transport (even deactivated ones) as they are considered ordnance, and as such no airline or courier will go near them. It can be difficult to teach the complicated process of demining without live models- books and charts simply do not cut it. In countries like Cambodia, where the problem is at it’s worst the lack of training tools is even more notable as many of those on the demining teams have little or no formal education to start with. This makes learning such a difficult process from a book even more challenging- and minesweeping is a career in which you absolutely have to know what you are doing.

Using 3D printing, Tan has created a suitcase (below) full of replica land mines. He calls it the Advanced Ordnance Teaching Materials kit. It contains ten 3D printed explosive devices, which he plans to use to teach minesweepers all around the world about defusing the mines safely. It’s already been noticed, with orders in from the UN, PeaceTrees Vietnam, Switzerland’s International Committee for the Red Cross, and even the US Army’s School of Explosive Ordnance Disposal.3dp_landmines_AOTMkit-288x300

Hopefully the work that people like Vandiver and Tan can be built upon and further progress can be made in the fight to clear the world of landmines. The video below shows a group of minesweepers working with the kits- and it is clear even watching them that the level of understanding as to how the mine operates is already improving- giving them the knowledge they need to safely diffuse any mines they encounter.



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