July 18, 2018 / 2:38 PM / 3 months ago

Venezuelan engineers turn plastic trash into car parts amid crisis

CARACAS (Reuters) - Two young engineers have found an opportunity amid a collapsing economy in Venezuela - inside a garbage dump full of broken electronic hardware.

They are melting the plastic waste down and feeding it through 3D printers to make intricate pieces such as car parts. These have become increasingly hard to obtain in Venezuela as dysfunctional currency controls restrict the import of basic materials.

Albermar Dominguez and John Naizzir produce only a kilogram of plastic printing filament a day, but they aim to help once-wealthy Venezuela’s vanishing manufacturing sector by making it cheaper for companies that depend on expensive imports.

It’s a sign of how an unprecedented crisis has spurred some young people to innovate following five years of economic contraction caused by failed state-led policies and a plunge in global oil prices.

“People don’t believe that technology is being developed in the country,” said Dominguez, 26.

Many of their former classmates at Simon Bolivar University in Caracas have already left Venezuela, joining an exodus of over a million people amid widespread shortages of food and medicine. Annual inflation has hit almost 50,000 percent and Caracas ranks as one of the world’s most dangerous cities.

Albermar Dominguez works at Nedraki's office in the Simon Bolivar University in Caracas, Venezuela July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

Dominguez said he had visited the United States to learn from people in the 3D printing industry, after becoming interested in recycling waste.

He then returned to Venezuela, and with 27-year-old Naizzir, began rummaging through their university’s garbage dump, collecting computer cases and old printers. Later, their company, Nedraki, struck a deal with a recycling plant in the Venezuelan city of Valencia for more material.

While the nation churned with street protests against President Nicolas Maduro in early 2017, the two men produced their first meter of plastic filament.

Nedraki now supplies 13 Venezuelan firms with the filament and produces plastic parts like transmission gear cogs for other companies. The filament is coiled on spools and fed into a 3D printer in a corner of the university’s campus.

Dominguez said their filament helps lower costs for a company by up to 40 percent, by removing the expense of importing and transporting the part. Nedraki sells a kilogram of filament for about $17.

They are now trying to encourage other Venezuelan companies to adopt 3D printing technology.

“Despite the very challenging outlook, we receive a lot of support because people take hope from our project.”

Slideshow (9 Images)

Writing by Angus Berwick; Editing by Bernadette Baum

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