Kenyan Engineer Is 3D Printing a New Future

By Lyndsey Gilpin – originally published in

[…] There are millions of people with registered cases of jiggers, [Roy] Ombatti said, and many of them are schoolchildren. But because the infection is associated with poverty, the shame and stigma of it lead many people to suffer in silence.

Shoes are, of course, a simple solution to the problem of jiggers, but even this basic possession is out of reach to many living in poverty in Kenya. And even when shoes are donated, the feet of those who have already suffered from jiggers are often so deformed that the shoes do not fit properly.


photo: Mykim Dang & Michael Youngblood

Ombatti had an idea: using a 3D printer, he could make custom shoes for those in need. The soles of the shoes could even be filled with medication, dispensed with each step to heal the jigger wounds. This idea led to his first venture, Happy Feet, which he founded in 2012. After many prototypes, he came up with a low-cost design for the shoe, made from 3D printed parts and locally sourced, recycled materials.

When he started to move forward with his company, though, Ombatti uncovered an even larger problem. 3D printing was still relatively new to Africa and to his hometown of Nairobi, Kenya. Few people had access to expensive 3D printers, and they weren’t aware of the opportunities 3D printing offered. […]

In early 2015, Ombatti and his co-founder and former schoolmate, Karl Heinz, started African Born 3D Printing, or AB3D. Instead of purchasing 3D printers for $500 or more (which does not include shipping, repairs, and plastic filament), they built their own using old motors, wires, metal, and other electronic waste. They got the price down to $350 — affordable for their market — and were able to provide low-cost repairs on their own.

“It’s [about] building up, gaining momentum, and selling more printers,” Heinz said. “It’s a big mission, but 1,000 steps begin with one.”

AB3D will also manufacture spools of the plastic filament used for 3D printing material, which they plan to make from recycled plastic bottles gathered from the Dandora Dumpsite in Nairobi — one of the largest landfills in the world. AB3D partners with a nonprofit, ReValue Waste Kenya, for the project. The filament will be available for purchase later this year. “It doesn’t solve the problem [of plastic waste], but it is a small effort,” Ombatti said. […]

It’s not even about taking up engineering, It’s just inspiring them to think outside the box.


Ombatti’s original idea has become a movement for technology in his community. But after a year or so building and distributing printers, he said he wants to turn his attention back to Happy Feet. And while customers are waiting for their shoes, he wants to teach them how to operate the machines so they can make their own shoes and other items. […]

We plan [for] AB3D to support other social ideas and solutions, like prosthetics, and other things we can make affordable. […] I see very slowly […] at least for Kenyans, we are owning our own problems, […] And looking around and trying to see how we can innovate and solve them ourselves.

Read the whole article at

More about Roy Ombatti and his work at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s