If you’ve been keeping up with 3D printing news at all on a regular basis, you’re probably well-acquainted with 3D printed prosthetics. The field of prosthetic limbs has been impacted by 3D printing perhaps more than any other field, for multiple reasons. 3D printing allows for customization on a level unmatched by any other manufacturing method, thus ensuring better fit and patient comfort. Also, it’s much, much less expensive than other means of prototyping.
How much less expensive? A typical prosthetic arm can cost anywhere from about $3,000 to a whopping $30,000, while prosthetic legs are even more expensive. A 3D printed hand or arm, however, can be produced for a couple hundred dollars at most – and a student at Ithaca College just created a high quality one for a mere $15.
Ryan Bouricius is a senior physics major and teaching assistant who helps to run the college’s 3D printing lab. He discovered 3D printed prosthetics in the same way that many do – by watching a video on YouTube. His interest piqued, he immediately began researching how to create one himself. Thanks to open source organizations such as e-NABLE, it’s pretty easy to find free 3D printable prosthetic models online, which is what Bouricius did. He then printed and assembled the pieces in a single day.
Since then, he has been working to improve and customize the basic wrist-controlled design, using his own experimental experiences for inspiration.
“I like to use it around the apartment to see what problems are faced, because I can only imagine what it would be like to actually need a prosthetic hand,” Bouricius said. “It’s given me an appreciation for what human hands can do and I’ve been trying to match it as best as I can.”
Since printing the original model, Bouricius has made several changes. He changed the orientation of the thumb, which had been perpendicular to the fingers, so that it can more easily grasp objects the way a natural hand would. He also worked with various everyday items, like a marker and a coffee cup, to better optimize the hand’s grip on commonly used objects. Because he’s working with inexpensive plastic, he can experiment with unconventional designs much more freely than someone designing a metal or electronic prosthesis.
“The nice thing about 3D printing is that the price only has to do with the amount of plastic used, not the complexity of the piece,” he said. “So even though my modified pieces are trickier shapes, since it’s the same amount of plastic, it’s the same amount of money.”
That’s especially key for children requiring prosthetics, as they outgrow them and require new ones so quickly, and is one of the reasons that e-NABLE has been such a fairy godmother organization for children in particular. Bouricius is now working directly with e-NABLE to find a recipient for his 3D printed hand.
“They know I live in New York, so if someone contacts them they will look at a map and tell them there’s someone at Ithaca College,” he said. “Once they contact us then it’s left to us to work out the rest.”
Bouricius and physics professor Michael “Bodhi” Rogers, who oversees the 3D printing lab, are working with Ithaca College’s Department of Occupational Therapy, whose faculty members have plenty of expertise in prosthetics. Once e-NABLE contacts Bouricius with a recipient in need, the department’s faculty and students will work with him and Rogers to make any necessary changes to the design and to fit it perfectly to the recipient. Discuss in the 3D Printed Prosthetic Hand forum at 3DPB.com.[Source/Images: Ithaca College]