Manufacturing products to reach as many people as possible is the principle behind a D-Lab class at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) called 2.729 (Design for Scale). In the fall 2018 semester, students in 2.729 worked on an ambulance for use in rural Tanzania; a floating water pump for agricultural irrigation in Nepal; an air quality detector for kitchens in India; and a plastic toilet that provides safe sanitation in densely populated areas of Guatemala.

Each of the projects already had working prototypes. The goal of the class, which grew out of the idea that coming up with a proof-of-technology prototype was not enough, was to design effective and cost-efficient methods for producing solutions that can solve problems in the developing world. Comprised of MIT students who already possessed analytic engineering skills, the class focused on how to design for manufacturability, come up with assembly methods for products, design in the context of emerging economies and understand entrepreneurship in the developing world.

One of the first questions students in each project team needed to answer was where to manufacture their device. For the ambulance, which is essentially a universal motorcycle trailer that can provide safe transportation to hospitals, the team made use of local manufacturing. They worked on optimizing the design so that large parts and subassemblies could be made with suppliers within Tanzania, then shipped to rural areas for assembly at distribution sites. One solution for optimization was changing the trailer geometry so that they could be flat-packed and stacked on top of one another.

For the air-quality detector team, costs were reduced by utilizing manufacturing methods available in the United States. The team redesigned the enclosure for the device with an injection-molded bottom piece and a thermoformed top piece.

Speaking to MIT News, professor of mechanical engineering and class co-instructor Maria Yang said, “It’s clear that the students who take this class all want to make a social impact.”

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