July 8, 2014

3D printing is revolutionizing the field of prosthetics and allows numerous families to use the technology to design low-cost, artificial limbs that they otherwise couldn't afford. While a typical commercial prosthetic hand will cost you more than $10,000, a 3D printed hand can cost less than $50.

Not too long ago, Swindon, UK based Steve Wood, a mechanical CAD engineer armed with 3D printer technology has come up with a proof of concept 3D printable hand with "live hinge" flexible joints. Wood is a maker, breaker and fixer and also the founder of a mechanical design consultancy company in the UK called Gyrobot Ltd.

"Originally I started messing around with the flexible filament Filaflex from Recreus." Wood told us. "I was looking at new and interesting avenues to push the boundaries of flexible printing. It started out with just a finger with flexible joints, but what good is a finger without something to mount it onto? It soon became the original Flexy-Hand that I launched in March."

This first Flexy-hand looks very close to a real hand and allows you to re-mix the design into your own robotic or prosthetic project. Since then he has got so many asking to make a wearable version, like the Robohand and the Cyborg Beast.

"Recreus (Filaflex Manufacturer) then contacted me a fortnight ago about their wishes to help a small Spanish girl by the name of Vega, who has no digits." Wood said. "Working from photos I re-modelled the Flexy-Hand in Meshmixer and Blender to sculpt out the palm and provide a gauntlet attachment. Recreus is currently in the process of printing these files (scaled down) in Spain and fitting the hand to Vega."

Last week, Wood has released the new version of 3D printable hand, Flexy-Hand 2 with some extra features, such as:

Gauntlet attachment via Filaflex hinges.
Two length/widths of gauntlet available.
Sculpted palm socket.
Discrete internal tendon channels.
Adjustable tensioners.
Discrete glove attachment channels (or alternative "Chicago Fastener" method).
Left and right hand versions.
Scaleable.

"The main features that make this different to something like the Robo Hand are the reduced vitamin count, more items are 3D printed and the hand looks more "realistic"." Wood explained. "However, this look is more subjective, and while it is true that some children want a futuristic cyborg, exoskeleton style hand, there may be others that do not. That's the beauty of being able to offer more choice."

Wood used a combination of FreeCAD, Meshmixer and Blender to design the Flexy-Hand. "I am no artist when it comes to digital clay, my expertise is in CAD which is very geometric and not very good for organic shapes." he said. He spent a lot of time using Meshmixer, pushing and pulling the surface mesh about to get a printable look that he was happy with.

Most of this Flexy-Hand 2 is printable, The vitamins required are tendon cord, 5x M2 screws for the tensioners, Velcro style straps and some foam padding. The hard PLA parts were printed on a new Witbox printer donated by Recreus. The Filaflex hinges were printed on his Orca 3D printer from Mendel Parts. And each prosthetic hand can be printed for only £15. Wood explained, "I can get 3 hands from 1kg of plastic and at current prices of £18/kg, that's about £6 each. Plus a little extra for the Filaflex hinges. I would estimate you would get change from about £15 per hand in materials."

Since the launch of the Flexy-Hand 2 a few days ago, Wood has received many requests and questions about flexible printing. Wood said the best way to help someone in need is to distribute the design freely around the world. "I am now a member of e-NABLE and the volunteers there seemed to be very excited about this direction. Hopefully the Flexy-Hand with some tweaks here and there will be part of the e-NABLE family offerings."


Posted in 3D Printing Applications

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Salvador Castro wrote at 9/13/2014 3:21:48 PM:

Hello, I just bought my 3d printer, because my daughter (6 years old) doesn't have the left hand, I am very motivated after I saw what you can do with a 3d printer. where can I download the files to print a hand? Please let me know what I need to first in order to start working. Thank you very much

Steve Wood wrote at 7/10/2014 10:57:09 PM:

Thank you Trevor, expect many more re-mixes coming in the next few months. Firstly, I suggest you join e-NABLE, they can match you up with a local volunteer who can print a free hand for you. and discuss your requirements with the volunteers. I am on there so I may be able to modify this hand for your grandson, or one of the other hands may be more suitable. P.S. Pawl, thank you buddy.

Paul Cheesley wrote at 7/9/2014 12:03:21 PM:

Having known Steve for some years he thrives at a challenge. Yet again he's not fallen short of the mark with this wonderful creation, that will give an affordable option for people who might never have the financial resources for traditionally expensive prosthetics. Also making the design files free to anyone is just another facet of Steve's nature. I can say that I'm proud to know and call Steve a friend...

Trevor Dawson wrote at 7/9/2014 10:42:25 AM:

Hi, very inspiring. I am new to 3D printing and did my first demo hand print on a friends Replicator 2X last weekend. What is the possibility to exclude the thumb as my grand-son (8yrs) has half the left hand palm with only the thumb.



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