You’ve probably seen videos of people without limbs doing amazing things. Increased interest in the Paralympics, for example, has raised awareness of the possibilities for achievement that adaptive athletes possess. Those born without limb differences learn how to do everything that people with two arms can do, from play the cello to change a tire to fire a bow and arrow. Advances in prosthetic technologies have further expanded the possibilities available to those missing limbs, from creating incredible swimming aids to just being able to pick up objects and everything in between.

[Image: AP Photo/Chuck Burton]

Learning how to do everything when you are born with a limb difference is just something you do because children are so good at learning and there is no other choice. Relearning how to do everything as an adult after losing a limb is an arduous and difficult process.  It was no less so for Michael Fine, who lost his arm from the shoulder forward in a serious car accident. In addition to experiencing a great deal of pain, the simple acts that he used to perform involving that arm became inaccessible or extremely challenging. He began to feel depressed and despairing and getting his first prosthetic arm only made him feel worse. This first arm, the only prosthetic that would be covered by his insurance company, had very little functionality and weighed a whopping 22 pounds. It was heavy, uncomfortable, and useless and he found himself not wearing it as a result.

Things seemed fairly hopeless until Michael’s son Jacob, a telented designer and engineer, had a realization. Jacob was about to start an internship with DSM Somos, one of the world’s leading stereolithography material manufacturers, when he recognized the potential to help his father:

“I thought about what I wanted to get out of my internship and then it hit me in the face. Now that I had access to sophisticated 3D printing technology and materials at Somos, why not see if I could help my dad and make a better prosthetic arm.”

He wasted no time in beginning the project and within three weeks he had a new arm ready for his father. The final design was a combination of parts that Jacob himself designed and others that came from the huge open source resources dedicated to prosthetic limbs. While perfecting his design, he also investigated different materials that might be best suited for its production, finally determining that Somos 9120 was the most appropriate option. Using this material helped him to reduce the overall weight of the prosthetic as well as maintain flexibility, be both water and temperature resistant, and have the ability to print finer details. The prosthetic arm produced for Michael incorporate electronics that allow the arm to move and for Michael to have some control over the hand.

Somos 3D was highly supportive of the project and both provided the material and allowed Jacob to use their array of 3D printing equipment for prototyping and production. When Jacob’s father received the prosthetic he was profoundly moved, commenting:

“I was both shocked and amazed by the lightweight, efficient, and incredibly useful prosthetic that my son designed, created, and produced with the help of Somos. This new arm is light years ahead of the bulky, heavy, functionless one I had before. Thank you form the bottom of my heart for what has become a life-changing gift!”

But Jacob wasn’t ready to stop there. He recognized that this type of prosthetic could be useful to so many others and wanted to bring that possibility within reach of those who need it. Working with friends and staff at Glenbrook South High School, he founded Project Mobility with the aim of continuing to develop and produce high quality prosthetics for those who cannot otherwise obtain them. Having since graduated from Glenbrook, he is now studying mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt University and hopes to continue to make contributions through engineering and 3D printing to those in need.

This organization is just one of many that has recognized the power that 3D printing has to provide useful, comfortable, lower cost, and much needed prosthetic limbs to a wide variety of people. Building on the open source culture of the 3D printing community, information is being shared among these organizations as they work to move the bar on prosthetics. The added benefit is that this is also proving an extremely popular way both to get young people interested in 3D printing and providing them with a useful outlet for that interest. Whether it’s a child getting a superhero arm or an adult like Michael Fine who wants to be able to pick up a glass, 3D printing has changed the face of prosthetics and there doesn’t seem to be any stopping that now.

DSM, for its part, recently brought all of its 3D printing business operations together to create a more accessible ecosystem of offerings in additive manufacturing.

What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts; join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or in the Facebook comments below.

[Source/Images: DSM]

 

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