After State Budget Cuts, Access Independence Creates 3D Printing Business to Increase Revenue Stream, Self-Sufficiency


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access-3d-servicesReceiving help is all well and good, but sometimes, you can succeed best when you learn how to help yourself. Access Independence, a Connecticut consumer-controlled nonprofit organization that provides cross-disability services to people, was afraid that its state funding would be cut when state legislators were attempting to balance the budget two years ago, as well as the funding of the state’s four other Independent Living (IL) centers. Unfortunately, they were right: the state legislature approved a nearly 60% cut. All five centers, which had previously shared $495,635 of state funding, would now have to split up just $202,005.

According to its website, the mission of Access Independence is “To promote independence and opportunities for persons with disabilities through advocacy, empowerment and education.” Back in the early 1980s, it was a program of Goodwill Industries of Western CT, after local community service providers saw many service gaps for people with disabilities and applied for federal funds to support an IL center. The Center later separated from Goodwill and established its own board of directors, operating as the 501(C3) organization Center for Independent Living of Southwestern Connecticut. After another name change and new building, the organization became Access Independence in 2014.

A 3D printer at Access Independence, in Stratford, Conn. Jan. 24, 2017. [Image: Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media]

A 3D printer at Access Independence [Image: Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media]

Joe Eckert, the Operations Director, said that due to the state budget cuts, Access Independence had to lay off one of its staff members, as well as “decrease its service footprint” to several towns surrounding its headquarters in Stratford; he said they just couldn’t afford to get to the towns. The board of directors began brainstorming ideas on how to independently increase their revenue, so they could keep helping the people they needed to without having to worry as much about their reduced budget.

Bernie Richfield, Board President, said, “We needed a way to offset that so we could keep offering the services so greatly needed by our consumers.”

3D printing came in to save the day. The board members decided to create a for-profit arm of the organization that could help Access Independence become more self-sufficient, as well as create new streams of revenue. Charlie Conway, Access Independence executive director, said he “borrowed the idea” from a mentor of his, who did something similar in New Mexico; Conway’s son also had 3D printing experience. The organization used a state grant to purchase two 3D printers and thus, the Access 3D Services business was born. They began offering 3D printing services last year to local individuals, businesses, and organizations, and additionally offer 3D scanning services.

Jack Heslin, Vice President of the Access Independence board, said that 3D printing is a potential “game-changer,” and gave an example of customized silicone body parts that were 3D printed and used for practice by surgeons before performing the real, difficult surgery on a patient. Before even joining the board, he used his 3D printing knowledge and advisory services to help Access 3D Services purchase their 3D printers.

Conway said, “I think what’s been a little bit difficult is really getting the word out there that we exist and the benefits of 3D printing.”

Bernie Richfield, right, president of the board of Access Independence, holds a prosthetic hand made on a 3D printer in Stratford, Conn. Jan. 24, 2017. Richfield is seen here with vice president Jack Heslin, left, and operations director Joe Ecker. [Image: Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media]

Bernie Richfield, President of the board of Access Independence, holds a prosthetic hand made on a 3D printer in Stratford, Conn. Jan. 24, 2017, here with Vice President Jack Heslin (left) and operations director Joe Ecker. [Image: Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media]

Eckert oversees the Access 3D Services business, and says 3D printing applications can also extend to the organization’s nonprofit clients, such as a right-angled spoon and a plastic juice carton holder, complete with handle; both of these were created for individuals who have difficulty moving their wrists. We’ve seen 3D technologies make positive impacts in the lives of people living with disabilities, in places like the Boston Home, and a virtual 3D app is helping people with dementia more easily navigate their homes.

“It really allows you to customize something for the individual, for example like a prosthetic hand. It just gives our organization another means to provide services to people with disabilities,” said Eckert.

access-independence-3d-printing-servicesAccess 3D Services has two 3D printers, including an Axiom from Airwolf 3D, as well as a NextEngine, Inc. 3D Scanner Ultra HD, which can scan an object at an accuracy of 0.005 inches. You can request a quote for a 3D print here by emailing your design file along with some basic information to [email protected]. Multiple materials are available to choose from, including:

  • ABS
  • PLA
  • PETG
  • Nylon
  • Polycarbonate
  • TPU and TPE
  • Specialty filaments such as metal- and wood-fill

The business can print objects that are up to 12.5″ x 8″ x 10″, and they do provide limited post-print finishing. Take a look at the video they posted while 3D printing Adalina the singing serpent, by Thingiverse user loubie; side note, the video is a little jerky at the beginning:

Access 3D Services has several other services currently in the works, such as a 3D printed products store; right now there’s only one product on offer, an ergonomic grocery bag holder, but more will be coming soon. The organization also offers full 3D design and prototyping services, as well as 3D scanning and laser engraving.

Starting March 1, Access Independence is stepping up the 3D printing business and taking its mission even further by accepting submissions, and sponsors, for a national contest. The contest is looking for designs for products that can help people with disabilities maintain or increase their independence and mobility. Submissions will be accepted for two months, and three winners will be chosen; first place winner gets a 3D printer! According to Richfield, the organization’s short-term goal is to find cutting-edge designs that can be turned into marketable products; Heslin noted that the winning designer would receive royalties.

Richfield said, “We’re going to create something that will benefit the consumers and also keep this agency functioning.”

The long-term goal for Access Independence is to keep their 3D printing business growing, as the process continues to become more accessible. Discuss in the Access 3D Services forum at

[Source/Images: ctpost]


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