Students Use 3D Printing to Help Veterans Do What They Love Again

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Christoper Wiersma presents his Garden Buddy device.

Among the things Richard Tuttle missed the most after he lost the use of his legs was gardening. The veteran was paralyzed after falling 14 feet while deconstructing an old barn.

“Before my injury, I was quite the gardener,” he said. “I raised my own green beans — canned them. Raised tomatoes — canned them. Now, it is a different story from a year ago.”

Christopher Wiersma, a student at Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) in Cleveland, understands. He has had four back surgeries, and gardening was therapeutic for him.

“When I began to get better, the first thing that I could really do was gardening,” he said. “It could have been just sitting in the dirt pulling weeds. Just doing it made me feel good. So, being able to give that to somebody else is important.”

Wiersma is a student in the 3D Digital Design and Manufacturing certificate program at Tri-C, which is designed so that graduates can either go directly into the workforce or move on to an Associate’s or higher degree. The Capstone Project for the program, developed by instructor Maciej G. Zborowski and Additive Manufacturing Program Manager Alethea V. Ganaway, involves working with veterans from the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center to design and 3D print assistive devices to help the veterans do the things they missed the most.

Mark Lettieri demonstrates the Fisherman’s Gauntlet.

After meeting Tuttle, Wiersma decided to design the Garden Buddy, a set of assistive garden tools that would allow Tuttle to work in the garden again. Student Mark Lettieri, meanwhile, was inspired by the veterans who talked about their love of fishing. He came up with the Fisherman’s Gauntlet, designed to assist those without the strength or motor control to cast a fishing line.

Tyler Tomazic and Eric Szabo were most affected by the veterans who said they missed reading. Tomazic came up with the Easy Easel, a device to hold a book, while Szabo designed the flying saucer-shaped UFO Page Turner for both books and touchscreens.

“Its hard to image a point in my life where I suddenly couldn’t turn the pages in a book,” Szabo said. “There is so much that we take for granted that they just want to have back in their everyday lives. We want to give that back to them.”

The students were the second class to work with veterans, using 3D printing to help them meet their needs. Zborowski is pleased with how the students have responded to the project.

“It is one thing to assign a project that is just a figment of my imagination, but I figured that it would be more impactful to test the students using problems that actually existed out in the real world,” he said.

The project highlighted how much of a need there is for inexpensive, user-friendly assistive devices, and how easily that need can be met using 3D printing. Like Wiersma, student Jarrod Koch could relate personally to the veterans – he himself had been paralyzed in an accident a few years ago. He shared their frustration with the assistive devices available for eating; the decent ones cost a few hundred dollars. He decided to create a device called Add-It Hands, which could be used for anything from eating to shaving.

Kushbu Patel explains an eating device.

After meeting the veterans, the students spent a few months working on their projects in the college’s 3D lab. Sketches and cardboard models were transformed into CAD models, then 3D printed. It didn’t all go smoothly, of course – there was at least one disastrous failed print, but the students picked up the pieces and tried again.

In early August, the students met again with the veterans to present their devices, several of which were left with the veterans to beta test. They were given instructions to use the devices until they failed, and to offer feedback on how the students could improve them. Tuttle was happy to try out the Garden Buddy, which he used in a garden at the VA Center.

“That is what I used to do,” he said. “It is so enjoyable, so fulfilling.”

The veterans suggested that the Garden Buddy could be improved by working on its wrist movement, while the UFO Page Turner worked well with books but not as well with touchscreens. Although students graduated from the program before the feedback was provided, several of them, including Szabo, Wiersma and Koch, are willing to continue to work with the veterans to improve their devices. The veterans are willing to continue working with the students, as well.

“I thought I had lost everything,” said Tuttle. “I am learning through these (students) that is not the case.”

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below.

[Souce: Cleveland.com / Images: Thomas Ondrey/The Plain Dealer]

 

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