3D printing the Bottom of the Pyramid

The Bottom of the Pyramid (BOP) is a term used to describe the largest and at the same time poorest group of people on our planet. This group of four billion people live on less than $2 a day.

The BOP has unique challenges and has traditionally not been served by many companies & products. The BOP could benefit from well designed products that help the poorest people by making their lives easier, longer or even help them escape poverty in some way.

As Shapeways we can potentially democratize manufacturing &
production for anyone, anywhere. We can produce 3D printed goods more efficiently with
more scale and at lower cost than anyone. This means that unique, short run products can be made that potentially help the Bottom of the Pyramid. So how can we by using
Shapeways’ strengths bring the benefits of 3D printing to the poor, the
developing world? 

We don’t know. So we’re asking you for help.

We are looking for viable product idea that could benefit the BOP. During this process, using co-creation, work together with the Shapeways community to improve this idea. We will call this process of working with you to develop this product “3D printing the BOP”. We would support your with design, 3D modeling & 3D printing expertise. We would also 3D print iterations and the final product for you. We are looking to, together with you, take this idea and turn it into a product. 

The product could either be an end use product or prototype. So, it could either be, for example, a portable water carrier that is 3D printed and then sold or distributed to the third world or it could be a prototype for this product to be ultimately made by another production process.  

  • Do you know a social entrepreneur developing a product for the Bottom of the Pyramid?
  • Do you yourself want to develop a product for the BOP?
  • Or do you know someone active in a poor community with a unique design or engineering challenge?

Apply by emailing a short outline of your idea as well as a short description of yourself to joris (at) shapeways (dot) com. Or send this blog post on to the right person so that they can enter. The deadline for entries is the 7th of November. We will then sift through and evaluate the entries and select a project that we will support.

The criteria for the entries are:

  • Above all: viability
  • Elegantly designed, simple and robust items would seem to us to be more effective.
  • Concept is nothing, it depends on execution, the final product, functionality.
  • The product must ameliorate the conditions of the members of the Bottom of the Pyramid in some way.
  • The products benefit has to be easy to evaluate and communicate. 
  • It could be a niche product.
  • It does not have to be a “big” idea that changes everything it could just do something small incredibly well.  
  • A great example of what we are looking for is the Rolling Water Container.



  1. Michael Williams

    Is this a “contest” of sorts?

    1. Joris Peels

      I didn’t want to call it a contest because it is very different from the regular contests we hold. It is a design challenge. Something that I think could really change things for a lot of people.

    2. Michael Williams

      Yea, I’m not thinking of prizes or 1st 2nd 3rd, but will a separate gallery be set up for this?

    3. Joris Peels

      We’re going to make up a gallery page for this with the content, explanations and information on it.
      We’re also actively looking for use cases. So, problems that our community members could potentially solve. We think that if we have these then it will be easier for you guys to make things.

      A use case could be: people in this village have to walk 2 miles to get water from the only pump in the area. And then the Shapeways community member would come up with the Rolling water container for example.

  2. Magic

    I think we should list the use cases.
    For instance, “keeping the mosquitoes away” (to prevent malaria) .

    As an automatic mechanical watch is basically something transforming desordonated movements into a constant frequency, I was wondering if we could use this mechanism to obtain a very high frequency so that it could produce ultrasound to keep the mosquitoes away.
    But there are too many issues:
    1) It has not been proved that ultrasounds are efficient against mosquitoes
    2) if it is efficient, I am usure we could produce the appropriate frequency
    3) if we could produce the frequency, it is not obvious we could transform it into (ultra)sound.
    4) if we could produce ultrasound, automatic mechanical watch movement are very expensive anyway

    So, next idea, please…

    1. Joris


      I love the idea! But, it would be complicated I’m sure.

      I also like the idea of listing use cases here and am currently working with non-profits to see if they have them.

  3. Michael Williams

    See, I was looking at where the Bottom of the Pyramid is. Primarily the population that needs the most help is around the equator, in low rainfall areas. Most problems could be solved with solving one. Water. You get water there, they can grow food. You can drink the water. The problem is that the water that is available is polluted, and hard to get to. How does the earth get clean water from one place to another? Evaporation. My idea is use the sun to turn the local water supplies into steam. Capture the steam and run it down an Aqua fir system. My thought for this would, in a lot of cases, require multiple country co-operation. How do you convince a country to give up some of it’s water, and land for the Aqua firs? Where the steam is produced, and along the Aqua firs you would have turbines to create electricity. Personally I think it’s sad that the Romans could supply water to all their cities with Aqua firs, but today we have places with little to no water.

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