Gentlemen using virtual reality
BELGIUM 2016 © Alex Yallop/MSF
An MSF staff member tries the virtual reality experience of Cantahay hospital. 3D printing and virtual reality technology to assist Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to design hospitals.

Standard practice for MSF when designing a hospital involves the medical and logistical teams working around 2D drawings but following the successful testing of 3D printing and virtual reality technology, this could be a thing of the past.

Whilst both 3D printing and virtual reality technology have been on the market for some time now, adapting them to the way MSF works during the pilot phase of the project was crucial. “The idea of this project was really to see how we can make use of 3D printing technologies and virtual reality to help MSF better design our hospitals,” said Elvina Motard, MSF Technical Team Leader.

To complete the proof of concept Motard worked with expert consultants to take existing plans for a hospital MSF built in Cantahay, the Phillipines following devastating Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, and made them digital. Then, they 3D printed the hospital and developed a virtual reality experience in a game engine that generates a virtual world where the user can navigate through the hospital using a virtual reality headset and a game pad.

“Such technologies will undoubtedly make discussions more efficient, more vivid and more graphic,” said Jean Pletinckx, MSF Director of Logistics. “They will allow people to really see themselves inside our future hospital and this will improve hospital design as well as training and briefings. It will also allow our partners, like local ministries of health, to better understand what we can provide and better feedback on our suggestions.”

The 3D printing and virtual reality technology project took only 4 months from conception to final delivery and future projects, will be even faster given that all of the 3D items created during this test phase are now ready and available for use. Whilst Cantahay hospital was a “proof of concept” developed in an already built and working hospital, in the near future, 3D models will be able to be sent digitally anywhere in the world and viewed on any web browser so that field staff can view and evaluate the design beforehand ensuring that structure design is done in the most efficient way.

“As the project develops further, it will be possible to create a dynamic environment, simulating patient and staff movements” says Jean Pletinckx. “We are at a stage now where our staff will really be able to feel or see what they will face in the field before they leave and indeed, even before the structure is built. There is no doubt that this is the way we will work in the future.”