Freshman students 3-D print and assemble hands for disabled children

Three-dimensional printing continues to grow in popularity and have varying applications across many industries; prosthetics for children is one of them. Twenty children will be receiving new, 3-D printed prosthetic hands thanks to a course in the Dwight Look College of Engineering at Texas A&M University. 

This semester, freshman students in Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) had the opportunity to partner with e-NABLE, a global volunteer network focused on creating and delivering 3-D printed prosthetic hands for those in need. EPICS (ENGR 270/470) is an interdisciplinary course in which engineering students complete projects in collaboration with non-profit community partners. The students provide their service through the conception, development and delivery of their engineering-based solutions to solve problems.

Traditional prosthetic hands, which can cost thousands of dollars, are too costly for children who will outgrow them in a matter of months. e-NABLE designs and shares 3-D printed prostheses blueprints for reproduction. A 3-D prosthesis can be made for as little as $30, so the hand can be easily and cost-effectively replaced as the child grows. The prosthetic hand connects to a child’s active muscles via elastic straps.

Ibukunoluwa Oni, a graduate student in biomedical engineering, came to Magda Lagoudas, who is the EPICS course leader, after he participated in an e-NABLE project. Oni’s excitement to spread the word about e-NABLE and to provide more 3-D printed hands provided a great opportunity for students in Lagoudas’ class.

Using e-NABLE’s prosthetic designs blueprints, students worked in teams of four to import designs in their solids modeling software, scale them up for appropriate size, orient them for left and right hand orientation, print, assemble and test their 3-D printed hands. The students used the “Raptor Reloaded” hand, which is the most advanced model from e-NABLE.

“It’s about the teamwork too,” said Matthew Curtis, a student in the EPICS course. “We’re given this kit and have to work through the project as a team.”

Together, 80 students made 20 hands that will be sent to e-NABLE for testing and distribution. Some of the hands will go to kids in the United States, but many of them will be sent internationally. The engineering students will include a picture of the teammates and a note to accompany each hand; e-NABLE said the children receiving a hand often respond with a thank you note. 

“It’s inspiring. You can’t compare anything else to helping someone and fulfilling this need,” said student Myles Rosenbaum. “You don’t see this every day.”

Engaging freshmen engineering students in such a project provides them with an opportunity to see first-hand the impact of engineering on society. These students can now think about all the possible ways they can improve the engineering design of the “Raptor Reloaded” hand to improve efficiency in 3-D printing and assembly, durability, and to further enhance the functionality of the device.