Almost 15% of the world’s population is affected by some form of disability, out of which 2- 4% have major difficulties in performing their daily chores. Due to the rapid increase in population and wide spread of chronic diseases the global rate of disability is on the rise. At this point 3D printing is able to help out such “differently abled” people to overcome their restraints and embrace a life full of possibilities. A similar situation was faced by a 6 year old boy named Alex Pring. Just like most kids he hated to go to school not because he was not interested in studying but he was tired of answering people’s questions about his missing arm.

But now things were about to change thanks to the collaborative efforts of the University of Central California’s Aerospace engineering doctoral student, Albert Manero. When Albert came to know about this boy via e-NABLE (a community that share ideas and design files for 3D printing prosthetics. It is also a forum on which people can share their stories). Albert gathered a team of his friends and ventured into the world of prosthetics in order to develop an arm for Alex. Thanks to the dedicated team Alex’s dream of hugging his mother using two arms has now been fulfilled which Alex refers to as the “real hug”.

The arm that was created by Albert was quite different from all the other prosthetics that are available in the market because he has created 3D printed myoelectric arm which responds to the electromyography muscle energy in Alex’s bicep. When Alex flexes his bicep the prosthetic arm automatically opens and closes. In order to construct this hand Albert and his team used a Stratasys Dimesion Elite FDM 3D printer. The entire process took 6- 8 weeks to manufacture the arm. The design of the arm was taken from Steve Wood’s open source Flexy- Hand. Stratasys donated some of the supplies that were needed to construct this hand so the team was able to assemble the entire arm at a nominal price of $350. A similar prosthetic having similar functions would cost somewhere around $40, 000 that too without the backing of health insurance. This arm can be considered as a breakthrough in the field of prosthetics.

Albert is planning to upload the blueprint of this arm on the website of Thingiverse so that anyone can take a print out of their arm. Albert says, “My mother taught us that we’re supposed to help change the world. We’re supposed to help make it better. That’s why we did it. The look on Alex’s face when he used it for the first time was priceless.” This would help not only children but also adults who are in desperate need of prosthetics but can’t afford it. Albert further added, “We’ve already heard from another family who needs an arm. We’re committed to helping who we can and I’ll be working with my team even when in Germany. I think 3-D printing is revolutionizing our world in many ways. I believe changing the world of prosthetics is very real. There’s no reason why this approach shouldn’t work on adults too.”

This is surely one of the biggest breakthroughs in the word of 3D printed prosthetics.

Image Credit: Enablingthefuture.org