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There is no doubt that 3D printing has made an enormous impact in the provision of prosthetics. Whether for Paralympians or fifth graders or even turtles, the rise in availability of customized prosthetics has been a boon. The reduction in cost and ease of production has been particularly helpful in the creation of children’s prosthetics as they outgrow them at a relatively rapid pace. In addition to being less expensive, the fact that the prosthetic can be customized to an individual wearer has made them more comfortable, and therefore more likely to be used, making whatever investment they are more worthwhile.

Many people who are born with limb differences don’t use prosthetics because of their limited functionality, high costs, or uncomfortable fit. People, such as fifth grader Evan Hines, find that they have learned how to function perfectly well with one hand, scoring an average of 24 points per game in basketball, pitching on his baseball team, and playing video games. Hines was born without his left hand and has never felt that was something that particularly needed to be hidden. He actually has a prosthetic hand, but as it is purely aesthetic, he has little use for it. In other words, his identity isn’t Evan-with-one-hand, it’s just Evan. That’s why when Alex McMillian, a senior in an engineering course at Capital High in Charleston, WV, decided he wanted to create a prosthetic hand for Hines, it wasn’t as an aid to overcoming a disability, but as a way of giving him a cool accessory. As McMillian stated:

“He’s not ashamed of his hand, per se. My thought was, I was going to 3D print him a hand, but I didn’t want it to look like a hand. I wanted it to look like something he would be super proud of.”

McMillian used a device design that he found through e-NABLE. It only has simple functionality, opening and closing in a grasping motion when its wearer presses on it. McMillian described a modification he made to enhance the ease of use of the prosthetic:

“If you’ve never used this hand for grabbing, you have no reason to push down, and so the muscle right here [pointing to his left wrist] is super weak. I made it so that the rest position was further back, and so he had more of a range of motion to push it. And then I made the elastic way longer, so it wasn’t pushing against him when he was trying to grab.”

McMillian’s first instinct was to create a hand that looked like one belonging to a superhero, but Hines was very clear: he wanted Star Wars, and so the look of the hand was created based on the character of C-3PO. It is taking some getting used to, as Hines’ mother explained, “Giving him a second hand is like giving us a third hand.” But the difference between this prosthetic and his other one is that he enjoys wearing this one.

All in all, the project took a week to complete, taking about 18 hours for the final print of 30 pieces which McMillian then assembled into the working prosthetic. The only costs were in the purchase of fabric fasteners, screws, elastic, and fishing wire as he was able to print the pieces for free on his school’s 3D printer. e-NABLE estimates that prosthetic hands such as this one would have normally cost $8,000, quite an investment for something that a child will quickly grow out of. Now McMillian is interested in figuring out what he could do to improve the device, and for his next project his teacher Adam Drake says McMillian will be required to create a prosthetic hand that is completely his own design. This project has piqued his interest in how 3D printing can impact the creation of prosthetics.

“Since then,” he said, “I have become a lot more interested in prosthetics in general. I think because of that, I might be looking further into biomedical engineering.”

Meanwhile, McMillian’s teacher wasn’t the least bit surprised by his student’s generosity of spirit:

“I wasn’t at all surprised that he wanted to do something philanthropic. He’s just a good guy. Initially, of course, I said yes. I just wanted to see if he could do it, just as a challenge, but then, also, I was excited to see if he could pull it off.”

3D printing allows a lot of people who want to help others to do so in ways that simply weren’t possible before. Whether providing a prosthetic hand for a local kid or for someone half way across the world, the technology is making connections and assistance easier than ever before.

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 share your thoughts below.

[Source: Charleston Gazette-Mail / Images: e-NABLE]

 

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