Mohammed Firozhusein

You Can't 3D Print Everything 🖨️

Is Kenya ready for large scale 3D printing?

This week, we talk to Mohammed Firozhusein—Director at 3D Moguls Ltd. 3D Moguls provides 3D printing solutions for businesses, such as prototyping and low volume custom parts manufacturing. He breaks down the 3D printing processes and shows the practicality of this solution. He details various industries where the technology could thrive and where Kenya is when it comes to its application. If you want to understand 3D printing, and whether it’s a worth-while investment, or if you think your business may need it…then this is the episode for you.

This is the 26th episode under the ‘Shifting Narratives’ program supported by the British Council SSA Arts.

*For the best experience, please use a headset/earphones.

LinkedIn: Mohammed Firozhusein

Website: 3D Moguls Ltd.

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Mohammed Firozhusein: That's the most important thing, understanding what 3D printing can actually be used for. 

[00:00:04] Afrika Design Ident: Afrika Design Ident]

[00:00:07] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Usually, you know, as form of an introduction as well, we like to ask our guests if your name or names has a meaning, has a reason for it, right? Both as your personal name, and then maybe you can tell us a bit about 3D moguls as well and what that means and what it stands for.

[00:00:25] Mohammed Firozhusein: Okay. My person name, that was just the name that was given to me, but three D Moguls. So the reason why we came up with that name was, initially the idea for the business was basically to produce figurines and you know, just like cartoon, like figurines sculptures and all that.

[00:00:42] And we were making these things using 3d printing. 3d comes from 3d printing and moguls. I guess basically the meaning behind that is you know, mogul means like an important person or an important company. And it kind of rhymed with

models as well, so, we just went with that pretty much.

[00:01:01] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Nice. That's the first time I've realized it rhymes with models. So that's given me... that's nice. Yeah, good to hear the story. So 3D printing, then how did you get into 3D printing?

[00:01:14] Mohammed Firozhusein: I started 3D printing in university so I did mechanical engineering and there was a lot of you know, prototyping involved. Let's say when you're making your projects, or your basically anything to do with fabrication. So, before we make the final item, there's the prototyping phase, and we use 3D printing for that.

[00:01:32] So when I was in uni, I mean, I got my own 3D printer, because there were a lot of projects that everyone was doing, but we didn't have enough 3D printers

to... I guess fulfill all of them. So I got mine and I use it for my own projects and for other people as well. So after that came back to Kenya and I guess there was some sort of demand over here but I wasn't really sure.

[00:01:55] So I just started it, started marketing and so that I guess. People do need 3D

printing services here as well in Nairobi.

[00:02:03] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): I came kind of from the same type of background where we were using 3D printing really for prototyping. For testing different ideas. And now, is that most of the market that you're dealing with in Nairobi, in Kenya as well?

[00:02:16] Mohammed Firozhusein: Not really. I mean, okay, like, initially I thought, you know, most of my customers are going to be let's say from an engineering field or product design needing prototypes and all that. I mean, there is a lot of that. A lot of manufacturing companies needing that as well.

[00:02:31] But I think right now the biggest markets are, okay, especially here in Kenya.

I think there's a lot of like 3D printing in like the dental industry and in jewelry as well. So, I mean, one of the services we provide is producing castable 3D prints for lost wax casting. So I think that's a really big field that I never thought I would get into.

[00:02:53] So a lot of jewelers use that for making their you know, silver or gold

ornaments and all that. A lot of dentists use 3D printing for printing the dental models, castable crowns and all that. And yeah, I mean, we do get quite a few inquiries from product designers and all that, but it's not as much as the other fields right now.

[00:03:13] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): I was talking to a jeweler yesterday about actually casting something they want to do. So maybe first they want to do a 3d scan of the object and then they want to add onto it with 3d and then cast it. So maybe sending them your way to support with some of that as well. Yeah.

[00:03:32] Mohammed Firozhusein: Sure, that would actually be great, yeah.

[00:03:34] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Yeah. Yeah. 

[00:03:36] Mohammed Firozhusein: Okay, like What's your experience been so far with, you know, once you came here and you have the same kind of background and all that?

[00:03:42] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Yeah, so really again. Yeah, I started before I came to Kenya with just using it purely for prototyping. I worked for a company called Reckitt. So where we designed fast moving consumer goods. So I would be 3d printing air freshener prototypes and all sorts of things. And in Kenya, actually, we've got a 3D printer as well, and we've been using it, again, for prototyping.

[00:04:07] For odd, custom things that people request, such as a drone cage that can hold a GoPro or something like that. So one off things. We were involved with a project as well with Aston University, who actually came to Kenya to find out whether rapid prototyping is useful and did research around 3D printing, got people to kind of create different potential designs and so on.

[00:04:35] And I think that's where we kind of get into the reality, right? And as a

product designer, I kind of understand this, but the fact that we can't really use 3D printing as people might assume just to produce products, right? They don't always have the structural integrity or strength. The materials have to anyway be selected depending on whether it's temperature or food or some other device that you're trying to prototype.

[00:05:04] So we're not quite, in most cases, at the stage where people can either create a 3D print or download a 3D print and then have easy enough access to say right my tap is leaking rather than going to the parts shop I'm actually going to get

someone to 3D print this part or to attach a water filter or whatever those local uses might be.

[00:05:27] So I think that part of it where we're trying to create a finished product is

not quite there and we found ourselves actually using it as well for things like casting, right? You can create either a prototype or you can create something that will be useful for a mold. Stencils and stamps, actually, we've used them for as well.

[00:05:48] So really complex shapes that you may not want to be cutting out with a

scalpel. So we found it useful in aiding creativity and aiding other creation processes rather than being the finished product. 

[00:06:01] Mohammed Firozhusein: Okay, yeah, makes sense. In terms of, let's say, using 3D printing for finished products I guess, okay, we haven't gotten there yet for sure, but I mean 3D printing up to a certain point, it's a bit more cost effective than let's say like injection molding, like final use parts.

[00:06:16] Again, it really depends on the type of product that you're looking for, the

material characteristics and all that. There are a few companies like I'm sure you've heard of Kijenzi, in Kisumu. They manufacture small 3D printed parts for biomedical machines.

[00:06:32] Essentially what they have is a print farm. So they have I think around... I

don't know how many 3D printers just producing those parts continuously. So it's kind of like a mini factory. I'm not really sure why they're not using injection molding for that. Maybe it's the amount, you know, maybe the volumes aren't there.

[00:06:50] So I guess, yeah, it depends on the application. 

[00:06:54] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): For sure. And I've seen Kijenzi 3D. It seems like they're doing a lot of really useful things. And those, again, maybe it's batch production where they need 10 or 20 of something where you don't need a mold. Or maybe it's a replaceable part, right? Where they need to keep, keep replacing them. And it works out for them in terms of the economics. 

[00:07:17] For us, you know, we've done Africhibi, which again, we used it for

prototyping, and initially we explored the idea of using 3D printing for the final products. And eventually we realized that actually we did, you know, as we go further towards working with local materials and local manufacturing, we actually wanted to make the original ones out of soapstone.

[00:07:40] So it was again very useful. And we could see the difference between the

sculptures when we sent a photo to the artisan in Kisii and we had detailed photos from every side. And then when we sent the 3D model, we were even more impressed because he got it spot on and it looked perfect. So it really worked in that context because we could communicate a design.

[00:08:03] And again, we can send that design out to someone anywhere in the world and they can reproduce exactly what we've got in our room here as well. 

[00:08:11] Mohammed Firozhusein: Mm-hmm. Yeah. It makes sense. It's a great tool for that, for sure. 

[00:08:14] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Have you come across other materials or other use cases in Kenya perhaps, you know, I often get asked about metal 3d printing. Have you heard of people doing that here?

[00:08:27] Mohammed Firozhusein: There used to be a company that... okay, they definitely didn't have a metal 3D printing plant over here, but what they used to do was take orders and then outsource it to some other country for 3D printing. So I've seen 3D printed metal parts in Nairobi.

[00:08:42] Like I think it's mostly just, you know, custom items for like cars or just

something that you know, has that aesthetic. Not really functional stuff. In Kenya, there isn't anyone that does metal 3D printing at the moment. It's mostly outsourced abroad. Abroad there's people do that and they use them for different applications like automotive components and all that.

[00:09:06] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): That's actually where I've been asked as well by people in automotive in Kenya because they wanted to recreate a certain panel and then it... again, first of all, it's not yet available and then actually whether a large part like that would be worthwhile reproducing for someone on a printer is another question.

[00:09:25] Mohammed Firozhusein: For sure. Yeah.

[00:09:26] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): if you do the... yeah, I know people are actually in inverted commas, 3D printing houses, right? And using it for concrete. I know that's happening. And again, there's questions in terms of efficiency and what this is adding if we're also looking at using more local cultural methods for building architecture, right?

[00:09:47] Have you seen anything interesting in terms of 3D printing architecture or

buildings or other objects?

[00:09:54] Mohammed Firozhusein: So here in Kenya, not a lot. I mean, I've heard of 14Trees and they had this construction project in Kilifi. So they built a few 3D printed houses. In terms of architecture, not a lot actually. I mean, people do use them for scaled models and all that.

[00:10:09] But for actual parts of buildings not a lot here in Nairobi. I was actually in

Dubai last month and there's a lot of stuff going on because they see 3D printing as a sustainable process. So I think it's part of their like vision 2030 or something to try and incorporate as many 3D printed parts in their buildings.

[00:10:31] They have this whole basically there's a Christian Dior kind of like an exhibition house on the beach and they 3D printed the entire thing. Here in Kenya, it's not the best thing to do because, you know, we're still in that phase where our industry is still developing.

[00:10:46] If we just introduce 3D printing in construction right now, a lot of people are

going to go out of work as well. So I feel like we're still at that stage and before we get there, we're going to be needing to like train people how to use that technology and stuff.

[00:11:01] So, it's going to take a while and it wouldn't be the best thing to do right now as well. What do you think?

[00:11:06] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Yeah, I mean, I think less so for the jobs and an immediate impact because again, I see it's probably expensive and quite slow if you're going to do it up to standard. Practically speaking, I don't see it replacing unless you need a specific part, right? I know the way they build really high towers of concrete is they never stop pouring the concrete, right?

[00:11:31] Because the concrete needs to set equally throughout. So 24 hours a day, you're slowly trickling concrete so that it's evenly setting. So that's almost like 3D

printing in a way anyway, right? Because that's effectively what we're doing with those layers. It's maybe looking at the principle of 3D printing and saying, hey, actually we can make, you know, like rammed earth, right?

[00:11:55] At Nairobi Design Week, we had Ardhi na Mbao and other people were doing it and the rammed earth production is almost a very similar method to 3D printing because you're creating layers and you're making that material stay in a single place. So, yeah, perhaps there's ways to integrate that kind of thinking into the things we're doing traditionally as well.

[00:12:15] What kind of technologies are you guys working with? Then maybe you can explain some of the equipment you have and some of the different processes of 3D printing.

[00:12:25] Mohammed Firozhusein: Okay. So essentially we started off with FDM printers stands for Fused Deposition Modeling. So what it uses is it uses a plastic polymer. It comes in a filament, and basically the filament is extruded through a nozzle and it's laid on a bed. So what happens is the nozzle keeps moving up while it forms a layer on the bed.

[00:12:47] So it's essentially like drawing something on a piece of paper, but then you

keep drawing on top of it to form layers until it forms a physical object. So, we started off with FDM, and then we went into SLA. So SLA uses a resin and a photo. So it's a photo curable resin, and it uses a light source underneath to cure the resin while the bed moves up.

[00:13:11] So in FDM, it's the nozzle that moves up while in SLA, it's the entire bed that

moves up and it prints upside down. So the difference between the two processes is first of all, the material. One uses a solid plastic filament. The other is a resin, a liquid resin. And yeah, so SLA uses a light source, while FDM just uses heat to kind of melt the filament.

[00:13:35] And then there's the characteristics of the printed parts as well that are

different. So with SLA, you can get a much better surface finish. Let's say if you're looking for something that you know, that's very smooth, so then you'd opt for SLA. Well, for FDM, the surface finish is a bit more rough but you can essentially make larger objects.

[00:13:56] The printers are usually much larger than SLA, and it's a bit faster as well

than SLA printing.

[00:14:03] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): And what kind of parts and use cases would you have in your situations for both of these? What are you using them for?

[00:14:10] Mohammed Firozhusein: With FDM printing, it's mostly for product designers let's say if you need an object. So what we usually do is we offer design services as well. So in case you have something to print out, say you're designing a new kind of bottle or something for your packaging. 

[00:14:26] So you could either send us the STL file directly and we print it out for you,

or we design it for you and then we print it out. So it could be anything pretty much, you know, like packaging material like bottles, or let's say if it's a spacer for a car engine.

[00:14:43] So for that, yeah, you need to choose the material appropriately as well. Let's say if you're using ABS or PETG, then it can withstand those high temperatures inside the car. But if it's something that's, you know, only for aesthetics or even if it's functional, but it doesn't have to resist a lot of heat, then you can just use PLA, which is polylactic acid.

[00:15:03] And for SLA. It's a lot of dental models, because you know you need that

accuracy and the finish should be smooth as well. Just the way you would be producing a dental model using the traditional methods. And jewelry as well, so when you cast the jewelry, it's pretty much exactly the way the 3D printed part is going to be.

[00:15:23] So any defects on the 3D printed part is going to be translated to your cost


[00:15:29] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): And you said for dentistry as well how does that work in terms of, you said for crowns, right? And so on. I recently spoke to Melanie from Simba Smile and she was telling me about what they're doing. So maybe you can contrast that as well and tell us how it works in terms of the other stuff for dentistry.

[00:15:49] Mohammed Firozhusein: Okay. Basically you can use it for 3D printing the dental models itself. So you see traditionally what they do is let's say you go to a dentist and then they put all this material inside your mouth. And they take an impression. So it's like a putty like material, which basically captures the shape of your teeth.

[00:16:07] And then what they do is they pour a dental stone inside that impression. So

it's essentially a casting method. And then they can retrieve the dental model out of that impression. It's a very long process and it's not very comfortable for the patients as well. So, what people do nowadays is you have a type of 3D scanner called an intraoral scanner.

[00:16:29] So, you can capture the patient's teeth directly using that intraoral scanner.

It's like a wand and you just put it inside the patient's mouth and you turn it around and it captures all your teeth. So that basically gives you the digital... it's called a digital impression, which you can now 3D print directly.

[00:16:46] So, it saves a lot of time, and the 3D printed models are more stronger than

the stone models as well. Say, if you drop a stone model, it's probably going to break. But you know, the 3D printed one is plastic, so it's more durable as well.

[00:17:00] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Hmm. Have you guys done any 3D scanning or work with 3D scanned models as well beyond the dentistry stuff?

[00:17:10] Mohammed Firozhusein: We have done a few 3D scans for some automotive components, mostly like motorbike parts. I think nowadays there's this localization rule where you know, a lot of companies are trying to produce locally because you can't import things very easily that can be produced locally, especially in the automotive sector.

[00:17:30] So we have 3D scans, some motorbike stands. Motorbike seats as well, so that they can be produced locally by some companies. Yeah, that's something that we might be doing more often as well.

[00:17:43] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): That's really cool. And I'll have to send you the guy who was asking me about motorbike and automotive parts as well. Sounds,

[00:17:50] Mohammed Firozhusein: For sure, yeah. 

[00:17:51] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Doable. Have you got any other kind of stories of work that you've done, anecdotes that you'd like to share with people?

[00:17:59] Mohammed Firozhusein: The best thing about 3D printing is, you know, you're kind of involved in so many different industries, because you never really know what kind of clients you're going to get, so you do end up getting a lot of customers from different industries. So there's this company called EcoWings.

[00:18:15] And what they do is they're trying to improve what do you call it? They're into

reforestation. And what they do is they use drones to deposit seed balls in different places. So essentially what they needed was something that could be mounted on their drone. And it's like a container that holds all these seed balls. You know seed balls, right? 

[00:18:37] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Yep. Yep.

[00:18:38] Mohammed Firozhusein: The drone goes around with the container full of seed balls and just deposits it everywhere. So you just get to work with a lot of cool companies doing cool things and yeah, I guess you're kind of part of all that in some way or the other.

[00:18:52] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Hmm. You're not strictly just 3D printing, you're additive manufacturing, right? That's kind of what you specialize in. Are there other methods, maybe other processes you've experimented with or things that you're looking forward to trying out as well?

[00:19:08] Mohammed Firozhusein: Yeah, 3D printing... it's a complementary process and you can use it for so many different things, like let's say if you want to vacuum form some things. So you can 3D print the object and basically the negative and then you vacuum form it to get the object that you're looking for. There's slip casting, casting using silicon, making silicon molds so there's a lot of different things. I think even metal casting, like, essentially it's all different things that you can get into when you're 3D printing. So those are some of the things I would like to explore in the future.

[00:19:40] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): And you're also encouraging people to get into 3D printing and additive manufacturing. I know you've done workshops and so on. How do people go about that? If someone finds this conversation interesting, they'd like to explore more. What would be a feasible way for them to start looking at this?

[00:20:00] Mohammed Firozhusein: Okay, let's say if you need a 3D printer or if you think that you know, you can use 3D printing for your business or let's say a product that you're making. So a lot of the times we just get calls and then we have a conversation with them. You know, we offer them advice.

[00:20:16] And about the workshops, we plan the workshops and we advertise them. It's not a very frequent thing, so it really depends on you know what we're teaching. So, like, we've had a jewelry workshop where we taught participants how to design Jewelry, and then we showed them the Lost Wax Casting process. How they can get involved. Introduce them to uh, different networks.

[00:20:38] We started the workshops just last year, actually. Let's say the jewelry workshop we had one in April. We taught people how to use Blender. It's a 3D design software.

[00:20:48] And then we showed them, let's say if you have a 3D model, how do you 3D print it and get it to your final product, let's say, if it's silver or, you know, if you're casting it in gold or whatever. It was a two day workshop and after that we haven't had any jewelry workshops after that, but so we're still kind of developing them.

[00:21:08] And we want to get into all these different kinds of fields, you know, like show people how 3D printing can be used for architecture, product design. So I think the main thing is, you know, teaching people design because once you know how to design something, then you can pretty much 3D print it, because it's just a manufacturing process, so the value actually lies in you know, designing whatever you need using 3D software or yeah, any kind of CAD software.

[00:21:34] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): For sure and I can add to that that I remember the words design intent stuck with me from university and when you have a particular intent that something needs a particular feature or a specification or something then you can direct your design towards that. So what I mean is that, 3D printing may be that first stop, and then you might realize that you might be better off making it out of wood or stone or something else, but at least that 3D printing has taken you somewhere.

[00:22:07] And then there, of course, you can approach it like... I really like the way you guys are doing it, because then you're giving people specifics, saying you can make jewelry. And this is the process that you follow to make a piece of jewelry. If you're talking about furniture, it would be a totally different conversation, right?

[00:22:24] So that's to educate people that it's perhaps not for everything. And then you can figure out as a product designer where to take that design next once you've created it.

[00:22:34] Mohammed Firozhusein: mm hmm. Pretty much, yeah.

[00:22:36] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Yeah. Have you got questions either for me or for people in the audience as well, or any thoughts you'd like to put out for people that listening?

[00:22:46] Mohammed Firozhusein: So, I mean, it would be nice to know what people think of 3D printing from the audience because a lot of the times we get inquiries and people aren't really sure what 3D printing is or what it can be used for. It would be really helpful to know what kind of misconceptions are out there and what people expect out of 3D printing as well.

[00:23:06] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Yeah, for sure. That's the big one because I think we've touched on that. Right. But we perhaps haven't communicated. There was also a lot of excitement when the first kind of commercial home 3D printers came out because people thought that within a decade everyone would be 3D printing their toothbrushes and cutlery and whatever else.

[00:23:26] And really the one thing that hasn't happened is the 3d printer is not like the microwave. You don't necessarily need it in your home. You might go to a specialist organization like yourselves to actually access the right type of 3d printer for your services because again, I might one day, even though we have a 3D printer, I probably could do with an SLA print, and then I need to go to you guys, right?

[00:23:52] So as the technology keeps evolving, I think, like I've told you, I've had

questions about... automotive stuff, people who restore vehicles are really keen on large parts and panels and things like that. And again, the kind of misconception sometimes is that it's quite easy to do, right? And we know automotive design is so precise and needs to be done really the right way.

[00:24:18] That to recreate a automotive part itself, sure, you can 3D scan it, or you can

remodel it but it's very difficult to get those right tangents and angles on all of the panels and things to fit together really well. So, that's something I've come across. I know of people who have asked me and wanted to know more about how that's possible.

[00:24:41] Again, jewelry is another one. And yeah, maybe that ability for people to

understand that it's part of the creative toolkit and it's a designer's tool rather than the end product necessarily. Because again, architects are using 3D printed models, we're all using them. As a product designer, if I'm doing a handle for something, right? If I'm designing a handle or something that I need to feel and see many variations of, that's really where I would like to do 3D printing because it allows me to test many, many different models very quickly, make an adjustment, send you the print, have it overnight, right, and then quickly make changes. Let's say it's a fishing rod or a handle for like a rake in the garden or something. That's where you can really slip it off onto the existing part, change the components and have a lot of flexibility.

[00:25:35] So, I find that very useful. And then those finished processes where silver

smithing or jewelry design, where we can make a mold, you can make, you know, we do woodcut printing, you can equally do 3D printed blocks, 3D printed stencils, and you can use those for printing on t shirts, apparel and merchandise, etc.

[00:25:57] So there's lots of other interesting ways. Like you've said, the interesting

thing is that people in different industries, you get to interact with them and they find different uses for these things. So I'd be really interested as well in hearing from people on different uses from different industries.

[00:26:15] And those industries can learn across from each other because something... lost wax casting is really useful for jewelry and at the same time, well, that means we can create car parts and sand casting, for example, right? Or something like that. Yeah,

[00:26:31] Mohammed Firozhusein: Yeah, that's the most important thing, understanding what 3D printing can actually be used for and yeah, a lot of people think it's just, you know, you can make anything out of it, but it really shouldn't be used for just anything and everything. It's better to kind of, you know as you said if you have a specific need for it and if you're using it for, let's say product design or prototyping it's basically a step in the process of making something.

[00:26:57] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Great. Where can people find you and who should contact you? How should they get in touch with you?

[00:27:03] Mohammed Firozhusein: Okay, so we have our Instagram page. The Instagram handle is 3dmoguls, so you can pretty much just leave us a DM or something, and our website is up and running as well, it's So, if anyone needs any services or anything, they can just reach out and we'll get back to them.

[00:27:22] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Great. Thank you, Mohamed. It's been a real pleasure. It's really good to see you and looking forward to seeing what else you guys are coming up with. We'll be in touch I'm sure because we'll be sending people your way.

[00:27:36] Mohammed Firozhusein: Alright, yeah, that would be awesome. It was great talking to you today as well, Adrian.

[00:27:40] Adrian Jankowiak (Host): Cheers. Thank you. Have a great rest of your week.

[00:27:43] Mohammed Firozhusein: Alright, you too. Bye bye.

Episode Credits

Produced by Nairobi Design

Host: Adrian Jankowiak

Producer: David King'ori

Shorts & Artwork: David King'ori

Music: Ngalah Oreyo (@ngalah_oreyo) and Mercy Barno (@merc.b_)

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