As 3D technology becomes more commonly integrated at earlier stages of education, students are producing surprisingly advanced products. Last January, Jayme Sims lost four of his fingers in a wood chipper accident and six months later, the students from Ben Barber Career and Technology Academy in Mansfield, Texas presented him with a 3D printed prosthetic. While this is clearly not the first prosthetic hand to be developed and certainly not the first to have been 3D printed, what is of note is the fact that high school students produced it as a school project and that they created it for less than $50 in materials.
Rob Goodson, engineering teacher at Ben Barber, had already been thinking about public service as a component of learning about 3D printing. From him, the students, Nke Ebolum, Jeremiah Joseph and Isaias Lopez, had started learning about printing in 3D and the engineering and robotics principles behind prosthetics. The limbs they were creating in the classroom were more abstract exercises with no particular individual recipient. However, when the students were contacted through the E-Nable website and presented with an opportunity to create a prosthetic hand for Sims, they got Goodson’s blessing and took on the project.
The students were a bit overwhelmed by the amount of attention the presentation of the hand brought to them. Ebolum, a rising senior, expressed his surprise at the attention the project had garnered.
“Mr. Goodson said there would be ‘media,’ but he didn’t say everyone was coming…I guess that just goes to show the importance of this and the impact this could have on other people’s lives.”
The speed at which the students went from introduction to 3D tech, to the creation of a prosthetic hand for an individual is a demonstration of just how powerful an early introduction to the processes can be. One of the students admits that while he was previously aware that 3D printing existed, he had no idea how to use it or even what it had the potential to do. As the prices and sizes of these printers drop, we can expect to see them integrated into educational programs on a broader scale, just as it was at Ben Barber.
Sims was overjoyed to get his prosthetic and he smiled from ear to ear as he flexed his fingers for the cameras. Devices with similar capabilities run from $2,000, while advanced prosthetics can cost in the tens of thousands of dollars. For Sims, this is an excellent ‘starter’ hand and a priceless opportunity for the students to truly understand the real world implications of such projects. As Goodson noted:
“If we found a student that [a practice-built arm] would have fit, we would gladly give it to them…but this was an actual project where [the Ben Barber students] found out, ‘Wow, we can do this for someone’.”
This interest in service learning is something that Ben Barber tries to emphasize throughout its curriculum. The 3D technology is now just the latest way in which they can do this. Mendy Gregory, academic associate principal at Ben Barber, showed great pride in that mission and in the students:
“A lot of what we teach our kids here at Ben Barber is that community service piece, that leadership piece, how to communicate and how to problem-solve using those higher-level thinking skills. And this is a perfect example of that, reaching out to someone that you don’t know to help them out.”
Stories about improvements in the lives of people resulting from 3D printing are becoming more and more common but the individual experiences continue to be extraordinary. Join in on the discussion of all the amazing 3D printed prosthetics at the Prosthetic 3D printing forum at 3DPB.com.
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