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3D printing program will train victims of human trafficking and eastern Kentucky artisans

Survivor Made
Women who have been victims of human trafficking build new lives working at Survivor Made, a small business created by Refuge for Women.

Somerset Community College has launched a program using 3D printing, also called additive manufacturing, to give new skills to individuals in two small businesses that have a humanitarian focus.

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

WKU Public Radio reporter Rhonda Miller talked with Professor Eric Wooldridge, who is director of the Additive Manufacturing Center for the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. Wooldridge says one business 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 support local artisans in selling their products. So, their small business is to take the works of the artisans and put them out onto market or get them into the market itself. And the other group is Refuge for Women, a national outreach program that actually helps pull women from the human trafficking market and then give them retraining, reintegration to society and a completely new experience on life. Their small business is known as Survivor Made. And Refuge for Women's participants, they actually work for Survivor Made and produce consumer goods such as leather goods, candles, maybe even, you know, sort of fashion items.

Miller: And so, can you just briefly describe what you might be teaching them or doing with them?

Wooldridge: The goal with them is to take 3d printing and first help them improve their manufacturing process. You know, the making of the leather goods involves sewing and machinery and templates and fixtures and jigs that can be used to improve the speed and maybe even the complexity of what they make. But along the same lines, what we want to do is expose them to perhaps a new product for the fashion industry, a new product that would potentially complement the candles, a new product that would complement some of the bags and leather goods that they're already selling. And with 3D printing, since a 3Dprinter is just a machine ready to go and produce a product, it allows them to introduce new ideas very quickly and easily with very little investment to see what the market responds to. So, Red Bird Mission, we will be working with them training the artisans to do 3D printing, so that they can actually enhance their artistic works. For example, we can actually take an object and say someone make something with just typical clay, or they mold or shape some type of vase or piece of artwork. Well, that object can then be scanned and replicated time and time again, using a 3D printer.

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

Wooldridge: The great thing about 3D printing is that there's a whole host of materials that 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 has texture of marble. It’s really amazing.

Miller: Does this whole project with the two groups, does it have a name?

Wooldridge: It does. I sometimes get it wrong, though. Elevate Kentucky through Additive Manufacturing. It's the type of project that really, really has meaning for all of us. You know, 3D printing is it's amazing for improving rockets and cars. But sometimes we forget this technology is a powerful tool for every unique individual. And so, this particular project has tremendous meaning to us because it's changing lives at a grassroots level.

Miller: Well, Eric, thanks so much for talking with me. I really appreciate it.

Wooldridge: Appreciate you, Rhonda. Thank you.

Miller: I've been talking with Eric Wooldridge, Director of the Kentucky Community and Technical College, Additive Manufacturing Center. I'm Rhonda Miller in Bowling Green.