Enabling a Grip: Student Creates Unique Fingertips for 3D Printed Prosthetic Hands

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1fingertip3Over and over again, we’ve covered the amazing stories brought to life by volunteers from an organization called e-NABLE. This group of individuals has been working tirelessly to 3D print prosthetic hands and arms for children in need. Over the past year alone, we have seen iteration after iteration come about, each one featuring something even more incredible than the last. This has led to hundreds of children and adults receiving affordable prosthetic devices which fit their bodies to a T.

Two members of e-NABLE, named Brian Mennenoh and Tim Decker, also happen to be teachers in the Animation Program at Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC). After the program received two 3D printers, the teachers decided to 3D print out a prosthetic hand. This led to them contemplating an idea to enhance the already available designs for these hands a little further.

“After printing out one of the hands and assembling it, they realized that the hand is pretty limited to what it can pick up, so they decided to have an optional assignment where we could come up with different grips for the fingertips that they can print onto the fingers with a more rubber-like material,” Brandon Evans, a 26-year-old student at the school, tells 3DPrint.com.

e-NABLE hands

e-NABLE hands

Evans was the one student who was up for the challenge, and using the two MakerBot 3D printers, he went ahead and designed various fingertips to be 3D printed on the fingers of a 3D printed hand. The experiment only used ABS filament, thus not providing with the soft, textured grip that more flexible filaments such as NinjaFlex or FilaFlex would provide. However, it did provide some insight into what is possible and what is not as far as different fingertip designs go.

“We ran into some trouble trying to print half of the grips because the spacing was too close, resulting in only half of them turning out usable,” Evans tells us. “I might try to re-model the other three to make them easier to print. Right now we are waiting for them to make adjustments to the printer so it can handle using the new Fenner Drives ‘SemiFlex’ filament. The SemiFlex will obviously give the grips more of a squishy texture, rather than hard plastic, and we hope that it will revolutionize e-NABLE.”

1fingertipfeatured

Evans decided to use shapes that look similar to real human fingerprints, as he thought this would be the best method for creating a realistic touch for these plastic hands. As you can see in the photos, the different designs look very similar to our own fingerprints. It should be interesting to follow this project and see just how well these grips work when printed in a flexible material. This could open more doors for those looking to create prosthetic arms and hands for children and adults with upper limb differences.

Evans himself was inspired by some of the projects which he saw being undertaken by other e-NABLE volunteers, thus sparking his drive to try and create something revolutionary.

“I was the only one in my class who took the assignment,” he said, “and it was mainly because I saw a cool video of Robert Downey Jr. presenting this little kid with a 3D printed Iron Man inspired prosthetic arm. I was like, ‘Yeah, I want to make some kid’s day like that!'”

He appears to be well on his way of doing so.

What do you think about this unique concept of 3D printing grips onto 3D printed prosthetic hands? Is a fingerprint-like shape the best method of doing so? Which filaments do you think would make for the best gripping? Discuss in the 3D Printed Fingertip Grips forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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