UWM Students Complete Coursework & Win Competition While Making 3D Printed Prosthetic Leg Coverings for Veterans

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csO2ZqJd (1)After years of helping those in need around the world, providing a bountiful supply of 3D printed hands and arms, e-NABLE volunteers are branching out even further. Whether limbs have been lost due to illnesses, accidents, or congenital issues, their devices have been able to help kids around the world—and many in countries like Brazil, Ghana and most recently—Chile.

Thousands of e-NABLE volunteers come together from every niche in life, offering enthusiastically to help children who in most cases they won’t ever meet, but will know they have changed their lives substantially—helping to add functionality, dexterity, and great confidence. There are many ways to help others, and this certainly ranks at the top—not only in helping to give prosthetic users greater options, but also giving them the gift of peace of mind in knowing that they don’t have to hide their prosthetics out of shame.

Now one e-NABLE volunteer, Frankie Flood, has turned his sights toward something a bit different, but very related: 3D printed covers for prosthetic legs.

“After focusing solely on hands and arms for the past 3 years, it was only a matter of time before our e-NABLE Volunteers and student groups started pushing past designs for hands, to create other 3D printable objects to help the limb different communities find ways to improve their current devices,” states the e-NABLE team in a recent blog.

Frankie has been working with e-NABLE for many years, and in fact was one of their first volunteers as the group began offering 3D printed hands. A professor at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee (UWM), Frankie is involved in the technology on a constant basis too, running a Digital Fabrication and Designs class. Over the last two years, he has been working to create new hands as well as items like a 3D printed viola bow that works in tandem with prosthetics.

blog5In a wonderful new project that weaves together his classroom work with e-NABLE as well as doing immeasurable good, Frankie’s students are working on a new project called ‘Next Step.’ With veterans in mind, this new project allows students to actually use their developing new skill sets, along with talents in design, to make customized prosthetic leg coverings that are open source.

“Last semester, my students Fred Kaems, Becky Yoshikane, Sara Shulerand Calvin T. Rupnow, engaged in a project that involved the creation of a 3D printable prosthetic leg covering or fairing. This is intended to restore anatomical shape of the affected limb, to be customizable and to be 3D printable on tabletop 3D printers,” Frankie shared from his blog. “This project, entitled, ‘Next Step, is provided as a way to give veterans the opportunity to customize and create a bespoke covering that mirrors their personality and interests.”

“The project began with an introduction to Gerald Ortiz of Melody America who put our students in contact with Sgt. Eric Rodriguez USMC. I was introduced to Gerry through my work with e-NABLE,” said Frankie. “Gerry runs Melody America, an organization that promotes adaptive music therapy for veterans. We discussed the fact that many amputees would like the opportunity to restore the anatomical shape of their affected limb.”

Working to help injured veterans readjust to life, Melody America offers a number of different programs, and as their name would indicate—often through music. Their mission is to work as a bridge for helping veterans through a strong connection to community and fun, inspiring live performances, and ‘transforming lives from hopelessness to hopeful.’

Last summer, Frankie and a DCRL intern, Hugo Martins, went to work on the new project. Beginning with reverse engineering, and by making 3D scans of Sgt. Rodriguez’s prosthetic leg socket, they began thinking of ways to offer an innovative covering for his leg, as well as considering functionality. Sgt. Rodriguez, a Marine who lost his leg in Afghanistan, even offered them his back-up leg so they had a device to help work their design around, examining all the components they would need to figure in for a covering.

blog4As summer passed and fall arrived with a new school semester, Frankie decided to put students to work on a new and very fulfilling project with Next Step.

“I wanted to see what they might create for Sgt. Rodriguez but also wanted to use this project as a way to demonstrate the unique ways that craftspeople, artists and designers can utilize their skills and knowledge to solve problems for individuals,” said Frankie. “I frequently speak to my students about the role that we all play in society as craftspeople.”

Nothing helps inspire creativity more than knowing you are making something new, having fun, and helping people—all the while highlighting and practicing new techniques and knowledge. Rather than just making art that would be hanging on a wall, their designs would be part of a larger picture in helping, as well as offering respect to the soldiers who have fought for our freedom—and sacrificed limbs in doing so.

In his class, Frankie puts a special focus on how there used to be a time when artisans were a big part of helping communities grow, as they ‘were the facilitators of a self-sufficient life.’ He reminds his students also that once upon a time it was the ‘makers and fixers’ who offered a much greater element of individuality to the world, and much personal experiences for consumers and users.

“We live in a unique time, where technology, the knowledge of process and material and problem solving are valuable commodities. Makers are now using hybrid practices to solve specific problems to create objects that address the needs of an individual,” says Frankie.

“In addition, craftspeople are now able to solve problems remotely and the local community has now become a global community. The ability to connect is allowing those in need to have a voice that is heard, and the hybrid practice established by craftspeople, artists, designers and programmers is allowing Craft to regain a foothold that mirror’s and adapts to its own origins of connecting with community and creating objects with purpose.”

During the semester, in a span of 15 weeks, the students were inspired to make several different 3D printed leg coverings. As they began prototyping, they even fabricated one for their own legs, as they worked on ideas for customization and production. Progressing to the third prototype, while it was built around use for Sgt. Rodriguez’s leg, they made sure it could also be customized for any other wearers of the same model prosthetic. The front panel of the cover could easily be changed.main

In the cover design, the students made a simple bracket system so that the 3D printed cover can be taken on and off quickly. The pieces are made in less than 24 hours and are meant to offer:

  • Customization
  • Easy replacement
  • Accessibility
  • Versatility and potential for scaling, with the hopes to provide covers for children in the near future.

With this innovation completed, the students decided to enter it into the Infymakers challenge, looking toward a prize of $10K. With the hope of those funds in their budget, the students were looking toward expanding the end-product of their work with comprehensive documentation to include assembly information, as well as total completion of the designs. They also wanted to use some of the winnings to help with expenses as they met and developed their future connections with veterans.

It’s not surprising to hear that the students did indeed win this prize, and are now planning to refine and complete their design, as well as offering it as open source files for anyone to download and customize, as well as improve further.

What an impressive new step for e-NABLE, indeed—as well as for the veterans who will be looking at their prosthetics in an even more positive light. The goal of the project in the end was quite simple, and well-met: the students wanted to make wearing prosthetics a better experience. In improving aesthetics and symmetry, the students are able to help veterans (or anyone, especially with open source designs) display their individuality.

“My students understand that they have a role to play in their society and that they have a responsibility to create a better world through the objects they create,” says Frankie. “They understand that their skill set and knowledge is important in a world with more problems than solutions.”

In the past, having a missing limb has been challenging enough for most, but often a prosthetic could be a source of stigma too. It must be an incredible source of freedom for so many around the globe not only to have help that they never anticipated, but also to have prosthetics that are stylish in their design and functionality and make others curious—in a good way. From the 3D printed Spiderman arm that is so cool one little boy sleeps in it every night in Chile, to these new Next Step 3D printed covers for prosthetics, helping those who’ve worked so hard to protect our country—e-NABLE is one of those organizations that offers a very specific and valuable type of help.

e-NABLE invites you to join their Google+ community and take the opportunity to find out more about volunteering here. For more information on this project, as well as the Infymakers challenge, check out the video below. Do you think this will be met with enthusiasm from veterans? Discuss in the 3D Printed Prosthetic Leg Covers forum over at 3DPB.com.

[Source: Enabling the Future / Images: Frankie Flood, via e-NABLE]

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