3-D printing allows developing children greater, cheaper options for prosthetic hands

Posted at 4:26 PM, Jan 23, 2015
and last updated 2015-01-23 16:26:51-05

Travelers Rest  — Functioning prosthetic hands are printed in hours, and assembled in basements. Six upstate men use 3-D printing technology to give kids the opportunity to hold hands, or at least, use hands, which they’ve never had.

Through a program called E-nabling The Future, volunteers across the world are designing and manufacturing prosthetic hands in their own homes, and getting connected to kids across the world who were born without them.

Since kids usually have to wait until they’re fully grown before they can get more sophisticated prosthetics, 3-D printing is easier, and cheaper to give options to younger children, as they grow.

Bob Choban, Reid Becker and Tony Caruso are three of six on their team of E-nabling The Future fabricators. They met through Furman University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, shared an interest in learning how to 3-d print, but wanted to print with a purpose.

“If a kid goes through their first 18 years without a hand, their mind literally does not develop to know that they’ve got a hand at the end of their arm,” said Becker. He explained that giving children the use of a 3-D printed hand can keep their nerves functioning for whenever they are able to get a permanent prosthetic.

The eight-year-old they were matched with requested a black and silver hand, because, they’re told, he is a huge Oakland Raiders fan, and those are the team’s colors.

Choban said that as the program has progressed, fabricators learned that kids would rather have brightly colored hands that draw attention because they are “cool” instead of people noticing their missing limb.

The retirees are learning how to 3-D print, and have discovered that many learning curves come with keeping a printer running. With plenty of replacement parts for their 800 dollar printer, they chat online with other 3-D printer users across the world, sharing information on how to make the printers work better, and faster. Even simple household items like hairspray and canola oil can make a difference in its function.

The group has the pieces it needs to put together a functional prosthetic hand at only about fifty bucks, and it’s all free to the child who will learn to use it.

In the last year, E-nable designers and fabricators made about 700 hands for kids across the world, and the program’s only growing.

The group in the Upstate is looking for schools who will let them help create a 3-D printing curriculum so that students can make hands for their own peers, according to a report by WHNS.