Enabling the Future - 3D Printing Prosthetics



Today, like each Thursday, I’m in the Barclays Eagle Labs co-working space, here in sunny (not sunny) Bournemouth, Dorset.

In between a VR presentation and some routine platform maintenance, I stretched my legs and walked across to see Sharon, one of the team responsible for the labs and in particular, the maker space.

The maker space here at the Eagle Labs maker space is neat. It’s a kind of Fab-Lab. With a number of 3D printing and Laser cutting machines at the disposal of the local community, along with, I must say, one of the nicest, friendliest team of people I’ve come across in such establishments, it’s a no-brainer to take advantage of.

But, pimping the Labs is not the point of this post.

Getting to the Point

Back to my brief conversation with Sharon. When strolling over for a chat, interrupting the work she was clearly focussed on, I was immediately intrigued by the subject matter.

On the screen was a 3D CAD model of a hand. This model is for children who require upper limb assistance, in the form of an artificial hand, made up of 3d printable components. Next to the computer was an actual 3D printed model, complete with articulated fingers and thumbs, attached with 3d printed screws and small elastic bands.

As I turn around, I can see that both the UltiMaker 3D printers are actually each printing the main central component of the model, essentially the palm grid. Left hand on one machine and right hand on the other.

Wow, intriguing I thought. This is very cool. ONE. MUST. DELVE. DEEPER.

I find out that this is part of a community driven project called e-NABLE. The model is open source and customisable, freely available for people to download and print themselves. It costs around £50.00 to print a new hand.

You see, it turns out that for children in particular, due to the speed at which they grow, the way they run and play and knock and scrape and damage their prosthetics, their options are limited. In the UK, the NHS is not entirely enamoured with producing costly premium prosthetics for these kids, and although it’s hard, on an economic level, you can understand why.

However, all is not lost. Put the designs of a 3d printable, crowd-sourced and community driven design that can be easily produced at home or in schools or in maker labs, assembled by non-experts and worn with pride into an open environment and wonderful things can happen.

This is exactly WHAT 3D PRINTING IS FOR. It’s just an amazing application for this technology.

For kids, the fact that you can make your hand an Ironman hand. A Darth Vader hand. A Captain America hand. Well, frankly that just rocks. Beyond being cool and fashionable, it’s actually imperative that the child feels like they are not actually wearing a device, but instead “carrying around their favourite toy”, for all sorts of reasons.

From a full hand, to hand and upper limb extension all the way down to a single finger model, the solutions are endless, and they are constantly evolving, thanks to the vibrant community that surrounds the project.

There are now many different styles of device. From the popular Cyborg Beast

The durable Talon hand

And so with that I’m off to think about my own Storm Trooper design, because I know my boys will :heart: that.