3D Printed Prosthetics—Lending a Helping Hand

We’re grateful to Entuity Principal Solutions Architect, John Diamond, for sharing this fascinating and inspiring story about his work with e-NABLE, a “global network of volunteers who are using their 3D printers, design skills, and personal time to create free 3D printed prosthetic hands for those in need.”

3D printed pair of hands

Pair of 3D printed hands produced by John Diamond for an exhibition at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, PA. On the left is an example of a hand that might be supplied to a real recipient. The hand on the right is used for demonstration purposes.

Since February 2015, I’ve been making prosthetic hands in my spare time using open source designs provided by an international web-based community of designers and 3D printing enthusiasts called e-NABLE. These hands are designed to provide a basic gripping capability to recipients, mainly children, who are missing some or all of their fingers and thumb either from birth, illness or traumatic accident.

Although the hands are designed using CAD packages and their components are printed using 3D printers, they are actually low tech devices that rely on the user bending their wrist to close and open the fingers and thumb. The devices allow recipients to perform basic gripping tasks such as holding a water bottle, tying shoelaces, or steadying themselves by holding onto a railing. Recipients have even used these devices to ride a bicycle or go swimming.

Test for Success: Matching Hands with Recipients

I signed up with e-NABLE last February. A test hand is requested of all prospective hand builders. This allows those makers who are able to prove their capabilities to be selected for matching with others who have contacted the organization looking for someone to make them a hand. An effort is made to match up makers and recipients who live in reasonably close proximity.

Recently, I finished my first hand for a fourteen-year-old boy living in the north of New York State. I just got word from his father that the hand I built to fit him is a success. Before the hand could be built, he supplied photos of his son’s arm and partial hand from which measurements could be taken. A couple of different designs of hand were then printed out and assembled so there would be a better chance of at least one of them fitting and working as desired.

At the end of 2015, I test printed a new design for an elbow powered forearm and hand. This was designed and developed by a team in the UK and has also been open source published.

Kindred Spirits

The 3D printer I’m using was an open-source design built from a kit of parts with help from my daughter Kate who worked as a Marketing intern at Entuity during the last two summers. She’s now working on printing her own hands while she’s away at college using a newly built printer that we put together from another kit over the New Year break.

Within the last two months I’ve attended several events with my wife, who now works for the non-profit Enable Community Foundation, to promote the ability of 3D printing enthusiasts to create and donate prosthetic hands that can make a profound difference in the everyday lives of those who don’t have the luxury of a full set of fingers on both hands.

We helped organize and staff a booth at the World Maker Faire in New York and took along a collection of demonstration hands created for such events. We assisted with an international press event organized at the New York City iMakr Store by the US State Department and gave a presentation to 250 high school girls. A filmed interview I gave to a journalist from Hong Kong during the World Maker Faire has been used to promote a Maker Faire that was recently held in Hong Kong.

Click here for a video of John Diamond talking about e-NABLE at the World Maker Faire in New York (September 2015).

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