3D printing is more affordable and accessible than ever before, and trending to become more so every year. While the price of 3D printers has fallen sharply in the last few years, the accuracy of even hobbyist printers has greatly improved. Whether it’s a small, plastic toy, a 3D Catan board, a gun, a gold ring, a functional organ or a prosthetic limb, 3D printing is here in a big way.
Recently, NICERC’s own Operations Support Specialist Matt had the opportunity to undertake a 3D printing project – printing a prosthetic limb as a Christmas present for another team member’s son. Jon, one of our Curriculum Development Specialists, says his son, Judah, was born with Amniotic Band Syndrome, which caused his left arm to stop growing just past the elbow. While this hasn’t slowed him down, certain tasks have proved challenging. For example, he had trouble staying balanced and turning the handlebars of his balance bike because his left arm couldn’t reach. The solution…the “Unlimbited” prosthetic arm.
Matt and Jon worked together to get measurements for the prosthetic and found free, open-source plans. After printing two test versions and ensuring a comfortable, molded fit for the limb, Matt themed the final product for Judah’s favorite superhero, Batman. As seen by the pictures below, the design prints flat and had to be soaked in warm water and molded specifically to fit Judah’s arm. Any small adjustments in alignment required the use of a heat gun.
Once the fit was right, it was time to print the final product, with one special surprise added in. Matt designed a special casing for a small, bat signal flashlight to take the gift from great to truly awesome. Below are some pictures from the crafting process.
Jon says on Christmas morning Judah opened his new arm and didn’t know what to think of it at first. Once he realized his new arm came with his very own bat signal, he had trouble containing his excitement. Jon says he figured out he could close the fingers by bending the arm at the elbow and practiced all morning on crumpled up balls of wrapping paper. By dinnertime he was showing off his new arm to everyone he could, shaking hands, giving high fives and fist bumps and shining his bat signal all over the room. Jon says he can’t wait to see how he learns to use the arm and is grateful Matt helped make this an unforgettable Christmas for his whole family.
Matt says he is looking forward to printing more advanced prosthetics for Judah as he outgrows this one. For an estimated 10 hours of hands-on work, $10 in materials cost, and a low-intermediate skill level subsidized by free internet instructions both on Thingiverse and YouTube, this project just shows how approachable 3D printing is these days.
In the spirit of transparency, this is the printer Matt used to craft Judah’s prosthetic. For less than $500 Matt was able to create a usable, prosthetic limb for a child. While his limb difference doesn’t define him or make him any less normal, his batman arm should help him learn to ride his bike. If you or someone you know would like more information about this project, please reach out. And enjoy the special holiday treat below.