3D Printing Program Will Train Human Trafficking Victims and Artisans in Eastern Kentucky

Somerset Community College has launched a program using 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, to give new skills to individuals at two small, humanitarian businesses.

The project is funded by a $30,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture, Rural Development Program.

WKU Public Radio reporter Rhonda Miller spoke with Professor Eric Wooldridge, who is director of the Additive Manufacturing Center for the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. Wooldridge says one company employs survivors of human trafficking and the other markets products made by Eastern Kentucky artisans.

Wooldridge: One group is the Red Bird Mission in eastern Kentucky. And what they do is they have a program to help local artisans sell their products. So their small business is to take the works of craftsmen and put them on the market or put them on the market itself. And the other group is Refuge for Women, a national outreach program that actually helps get women out of the human trafficking market and then gives them refresher training, reintegration into society, and a whole new experience. of life. Their small business is known as Survivor Made. And the Refuge for Women participants, they actually work for Survivor Made and produce consumer goods like leather goods, candles, maybe even, you know, fashion items.

Miller: And so, can you briefly describe what you could teach them or do with them?

Wooldridge: The goal with them is to take 3d printing and first help them improve their manufacturing process. You know, making leather goods involves sewing, machines, jigs, fixtures, and jigs that can be used to improve the speed and maybe even the complexity of what they’re making. But along the same lines, what we want to do is expose them to maybe a new product for the fashion industry, a new product that would potentially complement candles, a new product that would complement some bags and leather goods that they are already reselling. And with 3D printing, since a 3D printer is just a machine ready to produce a product, it allows them to introduce new ideas very quickly and easily with very little investment to see what the market respond. So, Red Bird Mission, we will work with them to train artisans in 3D printing, so they can really improve their artistic works. For example, we can actually take an object and say that someone is making something out of typical clay, or molding or shaping a type of vase or piece of art. Well, that object can then be scanned and reproduced over and over again, using a 3D printer.

Miller: Eric, in this example, where you take a clay vase and then reproduce it on a 3D printer, what material would it be made of?

Wooldridge: The great thing about 3D printing is that there are so many materials it could be made with. It can be made with your typical polymers, the plastics that are in Legos. We actually have a marble-based polymer that looks and feels like marble. It’s really unbelievable.

Miller: Does this whole project with the two bands have a name?

Wooldridge: It does. I am sometimes wrong, however. Elevate Kentucky with additive manufacturing. It’s the type of project that really, really means something to all of us. You know, 3D printing is amazing for improving rockets and cars. But sometimes we forget that this technology is a powerful tool for every unique individual. And so, this particular project has huge meaning for us because it’s changing lives at the grassroots level.

Miller: Well, Eric, thank you so much for talking with me. I really appreciate that.

Wooldridge: I like you, Rhonda. Thank you.

Miller: I spoke with Eric Wooldridge, principal of the Kentucky Community and Technical College, Additive Manufacturing Center. I’m Rhonda Miller in Bowling Green.

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