May 31, 2015 | By Simon

Although we’ve seen how 3D printing can be used to rapidly iterate between various product design ideas, one of the better examples of how we’ve seen the technology being used includes the use of creating one-off products for otherwise difficult to find products - such as those that are created for those with special needs.  If you’ve been paying attention to the various news stories in the additive manufacturing space, then this might sound familiar to you: 3D printed prosthetics are among the most commonly printed objects that are the perfect example of this in action.

But the need for custom-designed products doesn’t just end with 3D printed prosthetics; of all of the special needs out there, the need for a replacement limb is just one of hundreds - if not thousands - of other needs.  More recently, this came in the form of a special spoon design that was made possible thanks to the low costs of manufacturing with 3D printing.  

After being diagnosed with a brain tumor at age two, four-year-old Anthony from Shelbyville, KY sadly lost his eyesight after having his tumor removed.  After successfully completing a year of chemotherapy he has began the long road of recovery and has learned to take the learning process one step at a time.  Among these steps include the skill of learning how to use utensils to feed himself without the ability of seeing the distance between the utensil and his mouth.  

Considering that learning how to use utensils can be challenging for four-year-olds who have 20/20 vision, it’s clear just how much a special utensil was needed for Anthony - which he found while at his therapist’s office one day.  The spoon that Anthony found had a particular length and curvature that made it easier for him to gauge the distance between the food and his mouth.   

After seeing how Anthony took a liking to the spoon, his mother, Cierra Brettnacher, took a picture of it and posted it to Facebook asking for help.  Soon after, family friend Wayne Whitworth saw the post and decided immediately that he needed to help.  

“As a Marine, we don’t leave anyone behind,” said Wayne.

“I’ve never met Anthony but he is a remarkable little boy. I decided to post the picture on my Facebook page and ask my friends how I could get this spoon. I probably got 1,500 responses from people all over the U.S. and as far as Australia who were looking for this spoon. The response I received was tremendous.”

After looking at a variety of different possible methods for getting a replica of the therapist’s spoon made, none seemed to work.   

“Finally, I reached out to Anthony’s therapist and asked to borrow the spoon. She let me keep it for one week and I got to work, taking tons of pictures and measuring every angle with calipers to show length, width and height,” added Wayne.

Soon after he had gathered the measurements, a co-worker asked him if he had considered 3D printing to manufacture the spoon.  Wayne hadn’t considered this option and soon after googled a local 3D printer provider; which ended up being UPS Store 0830.

After meeting with UPS franchisee Debbie Adams to see if it would be possible to recreate the spoon, she determined that it would be and all that was needed were the measurements and reference photos that Wayne had already taken.

Soon after, Doug Seelbach, who modeled the spoon for Debbie and Wayne presented the pair with a finished 3D model, however they soon realized that their material options were not yet FDA-approved for eating.  Their workaround involved printing a handle for the spoon that could be removed from an existing FDA-approved spoon material.  Because the process of creating the handles from this point on was relatively easy, Doug decided to print two handles: one for a fork and one for a spoon with tactile indicators so that Anthony would be able to tell the difference. 

“Debbie’s designer, Doug, did a really great job creating the file,” added Wayne. “And Debbie is a remarkable lady. She never gave up. She does not quit. I had tears in my eyes when I picked up the spoon.”

Although Debbie normally charges for her 3D design and 3D printing services, she refused to take the money from Wayne and instead offered the services and materials for free.   

“This spoon has really made a difference in our family’s daily routine,” added Cierra.

“With a spoon he likes, we’re able to introduce more foods that he wouldn’t normally try if we were feeding him. Since he is able to feed himself these foods, he’s much more open to them. So this spoon has truly impacted our lives in a variety of ways.”

Just last weekend, Anthony even used his new spoon to eat his birthday cake during his fourth birthday party - proving that 3D printing truly can change lives for the better.  

However the removal and treatment over the past 2 1/2 years has disrupted his family's life. They have setup a page on GoFundMe where they are kindly asking for donations to cover some of his medical bills. To help Anthony's family raise money, be sure to head over to the 'Riding for Anthony's Medical Fund' page on GoFundMe.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Applications

 

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