Oct 31, 2016 | By Alec

It’s one of the hidden problems of American society, only visible if it affects you or one of your family members or close friends: veteran reintegration. Those men and women who have made the immense sacrifice of serving their country in war are faced with very serious challenges when trying to reinter the workforce, in part because they are still struggling with what they have experienced and in part because the job market has fundamentally changed in a few short years.

As these problems aren’t discussed openly enough and veteran agencies are consistently struggling with bureaucratic and financial problems, the veterans themselves are now taking matters in their own hands. With backing from America Makes and the Department of Veterans Affairs Center for Innovation, 3D printing specialist David Schnepp (previously of 3D Systems) and Army Medical Corps veteran Michael Moncada have set up 3D Veterans, a training program that provides veterans with free courses on digital processing, CAD design and 3D printing – skills that can give them a head start when looking for jobs in the technical sector.

The concept is ambitious. As the Obama administration revealed during Manufacturing Day 2016, 3D Veterans is seeking to train 400 veterans every year through a special bootcamp that will be held at locations in Los Angeles, Carson, San Francisco, Philadelphia and El Paso. Backed by a Google.org Impact Challenge grant, these are six-week long intensive courses that will enable veterans to get to grips with all the tools and skills necessary to build up a second career. Even startup creation advice is provided. Aside from veterans, active military personnel and Transitioning Service Members are also welcome. “Our missions align with the President Of The United States efforts to revitalize American manufacturing and encourage companies to invest in the United States. 3D Veterans aims to bridge the gap of skilled manufacturing workers with highly skilled Veterans,” the founders say.

As the cofounders explain, veterans need to be empowered to use today’s technologies and be enabled to work towards self-sustainability, career marketability, and innovative problem solving. To make this possible, they are already actively involving the Veteran Community and subject matter experts to make lessons as relevant and educational as possible. “Providing our veterans in-depth, hands-on training in 3D Printing and the various supporting technologies such as 3D scanning and design software, gives them many of the necessary skill sets required in the digital workplace. We are excited to work with America Makes on this very important and high-impact initiative,” co-founder Schnepp said.

Fortunately, all partners were immediately convinced of the value of this 3D printing initiative. “We are incredibly honored to be giving back to our veteran community through a workforce development effort of this kind. Working together with funding partners, government agencies, and private companies in this high-impact project for our veterans demonstrates the strength of collaboration and the success we can realize when we work together for a common purpose,” said America Makes Founding Director and NCDMM Executive Director, Ralph Resnick.

And its first effects are already being felt, as the inaugural bootcamp was held earlier this fall at St. Philip's College in San Antonio, Texas. Leading the six-week bootcamp was co-founder Michael Moncada, who focused on project-based learning activities. “Participants will design and create prototypes for assisted devices that can have real impact for disabled veterans. As the program expands, these prototypes can be used to demonstrate quality-of-life improvements and eventually become real products,” he said when kicking off the project.

Marine veteran Len Arroyo was among the select group of fifteen vets who participated in the six-week event, and jumped at the opportunity as soon as he heard of its existence. “This is considered the third industrial revolution, because of how fast its moving and changing our lives,” Arroyo, 59, said, during a break. “If we continue on this path, veterans will be able to feed their families through this program.”

With the help of two teaching assistants, Moncada taught the students about eight different 3D printing methods, and led them through the design of several prototype prosthetic devices. “Imagination is the only limitation,” Moncada said. “They can make anything from a cubic inch to 10 feet wide.”

Retired U.S. Army Major and participant Joshua Munch quickly found a project for himself. Having served in Iraq and Afghanistan, he was particularly struck by the difficulties faced by those veterans who lost limbs or limb functionality due to bomb and bullet wounds. After researching assistive items for these people, he noted that many struggle with the ‘simple’ task of drinking through a straw. “People have challenges holding a straw in a glass and end up spilling cups trying to get to their straw because they don't have use of their fingers or they're missing limbs,” Munch told CNN reporters.

Munch, who has served in the Army for 17 years, therefore chose to design a straw-holding device that clips onto the lip of a cup and keeps the straw stationary. It took about a week to prototype and just 20 minutes to 3D print, while conventional objects of that size could take months to prototype with other technologies. Following advice from his kids, Munch further added various animal themes and stylistic options, ending up with a viable tool many disabled veterans can use. “If I get this out there into the veterans' community, to be able to give back to those that you worked with and served with, that's the big benefit to it,” Munch said.

Other objects created during this pilot program include a prosthetic hand and a 3D printed lightweight ankle attachment that enables leg prosthetics to be worn comfortably. Former Army Military Intelligence Officer Shawn Tillman, another participant, designed a case for organizing diabetic medical tools. While already more functional and fashionable than existing cases, Tillman is now working to ensure that the 3D printed case also stores the crucial insulin at stable temperatures. She is even looking into options to combine 3D printing with her new career as physical therapist and yoga instructor.

The inaugural 3D printing bootcamp is thus a huge success, and if anything greatly improves the confidence of veterans – convincing them that they can start a non-military career as well. If all goes well, 400 veterans can be trained over the coming year.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Phyllis Saul wrote at 12/19/2016 5:17:35 AM:

Hello, Anything interesting in the world of 3D for the deaf population? My son is deaf and I would be very interested in anything that might be in the working stages. My son uses sign language for communication. Unfortunately, not many people know how to sign. Thank you for taking the time to read my email.

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