Mar.16, 2014

When Shea, a little 9-year-old girl breaks a finger, all she has to do is 3D print a new one.

Shea was born with a palm, a two-digit thumb and no fingers on her right hand. Last year Shea saw a YouTube video about 3D printed hands and asked for one from Santa. Shea's mom, Ranee Stollenwerk, started doing some research online. After Googling about 3D printed hands she came upon E-Nable, an online community of 3D printing hobbyists to create and improve affordable custom prosthetics for those in need.

"I have been looking into trying to figure this out ... but it is way above my head!" Ranee wrote to the E-Nable group. "I'm a part-time preschool teacher and full-time mom. Not an engineer. my knowledge in the area of 3D printing is very limited to just what I have read online. My daughter is very excited about the idea of being in on making her very own 3D hand. Any help, direction, information, etc. you can offer would be amazing and go a long way to making a little girl's Christmas wish come true."

Frankie Flood, an associate professor in the metals department at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Peck School of the Arts, and also member of E-Nable, heard about Shea just before Christmas and wanted to help.

"My first thought after reading this was, that I just HAVE to find a way to help. This is the kind of thing that I tell my students "we" (as designers and makers) should be doing to benefit people in the world. This kind of bespoke object is the very thing that metal-smiths or craftsmen used to design and create for people in society on a daily basis. And now in this digital age we are able to share information openly, create networks of people, and create a one off custom for an unique and special individual. Helping to make this girl's dream come true has become high on my list of priorities."

Flood went to work immediately and he was not sure if he could finish it before Christmas. By that time, there were a few prototype designs available at E-Nable: the original "Robohand" created by Owen and Van As; the "Talon hand" designed by Peter Binkley, a dad from Virginia who created a hand for his son; and the "Cyborg Beast" by Jorge Zuniga, an assistant professor of exercise science at Creighton University.

Flood has a 3D printer at home so it could print through the night. The printer created parts for the hand in Shea's favorite colors - pink, yellow and orange, as fast as it could. The hand was not ready in time for the Xmas, but at least, Shea's mom and dad could tell her that one was in the works.

Flood has been working on creating various designs so that this little girl can decide which one is the most comfortable for her and which she prefers. In February Shea went to meet up with Flood and his team at University of Wisconsin Milwaukke to fit and test out her new hand, the pink "Beast." The hand works with wrist movement to open and close, and it took her only a matter of seconds to start picking things up.

"… It made my year to see her pick something up with her new hand. It had to be one of the coolest feelings I've ever experienced. To see something that so many people have collaborated on come to life in the hands of a child and to see how it might have the potential to impact her life is magical." Flood wrote in his blog.

Even more remarkably, the 3D printed hand which costs less than $50, feels more suited to Shea than those pricey prosthetic devices. Flood is still working on custom designing a few of these hand designs for her to try. And as Shea grow, the designs can easily be scaled up and remade, said Flood.

Flood is documenting his progress and thoughts as he works. You can view his blog here. They call this new hand "Shea's Hand", which will be available online for free.

Because the designs are shared openly so anyone can test and improve them. In the video below, Jeremy Simon from 3duniverse wants to show you how to assemble the Cyborg Beast 3D printed prosthesis, in case you also want to try out and help. "I have no background in prosthetics or mechanical engineering, so if I can do this, anyone can." writes Simon.

Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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Frankie Flood wrote at 4/30/2014 6:11:42 AM:

Francis wrote at 4/21/2014 10:09:26 PM:

OK, this gave me a lump in my throat. I think I have found a really worthwhile project to undertake.

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