Students in the Fab Lab Club at Fox Valley Technical College acquired the files for the prosthetic wrist and hand device from Enabling The Future (e-NABLE). They printed the parts and assembled the hand for a young girl in Pennsylvania to help her with daily activities due to a disability.
The students represent different programs in advanced manufacturing at FVTC. They used 3D printing technology in the Fab Lab to build a prototype of the hand device for the young girl, who is now enjoying more activities thanks to the effort. Fab Lab technology and communications are linked to several global resources, including e-NABLE, a worldwide volunteer-based organization dedicated to creating mechanical-like body joint parts that support everyday human activities.
View photo (Washington Times Multi-Media) >>
The following article, “FVTC part of global prosthetic hand project,” was published on Monday, July 20, 2015 by the Post Crescent, Jim Collar for Post Crescent Media (1A, 6A):
FVTC part of global prosthetic hand project
GRAND CHUTE – A global, online community has been gaining steam and getting widespread attention for its efforts to change lives through technology.
Fox Valley Technical College signed on to the project, and students discovered something special in building hands for those in need.
The college’s Fab Lab Club — short for fabrication laboratory — linked into a worldwide project called e-Nable last fall. Its volunteers use three-dimensional printer to create mechanical, prosthetic hands.
“I had a huge interest in 3-D printing and I’m learning while I’m helping somebody,” said mechanical design student Andrew Krautkramer. This past spring, students completed a plastic hand with closing fingers for a 6-year-old Pittsburgh girl. They’ll get to work on a new project this fall.
The project’s website matches volunteers to those who need help.
Jeff Laurich, a mechanical design instructor at FVTC, recognized both the educational and social value when learning of e-Nable last fall. He is amazed at how quickly the movement has grown.
“It’s only been around for two years, and already there are thousands of people around the world working on it,” Laurich said.
Those involved with e-Nable don’t charge for their creations. Designs are freely shared on the Internet and designers frequently post improvements. A hand can be created for about $50 worth of materials.
The hand components are formed layer-by-layer in plastic inside the printer, and then assembled. The hand is strapped to the user’s arm by Velcro. Strings that run through the fingers act as tendons. The fingers bend to a closed position through the flexing of the wrist.
Professionally created prosthetic hands are out of reach for many, with prices ranging from $6,000 to $12,000. The printed hands aren’t equivalent, according to the group, though they’re sufficient for holding light objects, taking a bike ride or playing catch.
They’re particularly valuable as it comes to children. “There’s no way an insurance company is going to pay for a hand that a child is going to grow out of,” Krautkramer said.
The rapid pace of technological change has made the prosthetic program possible. Not so long ago, 3-D printers were too costly — even for many businesses, Laurich said. Today, they sell for as little as $500, and “people are buying them for their homes now.”
The first hand donated by FVTC underwent a number of modifications. Students weren’t able to measure the girl in person and had to rely on photos for sizing. They sent her hand in May and are awaiting word on how well it’s working.
The FVTC club hopes to improve its products as the project continues. Components have so far been printed in a rigid plastic. Soon, there will be a move to a more flexible material that will make the hands feel more natural to the users.
For Krautkramer, the effort quickly went beyond a school project to a personal mission. He spent a lot of free time on the hand, guided by a sense that it needed to be done correctly.
He will finish the mechanical design program in fall, and plans to get his own 3-D printer so he can continue building hands after graduation. The recipients deserve them, Krautkramer said.
“It’s pretty rewarding.”
— Jim Collar: 920-993-1000, ext. 216, or firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @JimCollar
On the web:
To learn more about e-Nable, visit its website: enablingthefuture.org.
This story has also appeared in:
- The Washington Times
- The Milwaukee-Journal Sentinel
- And other media outlets across the country in Albany, Mobile, Salt Lake City, Lexington, Minneapolis, and Columbia, South Carolina.