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Giving a helping hand with 3-D printers

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A global network of volunteers are using their 3-D printers, design skills and time to create 3-D printed prosthetic hands for those in need. LINETTE HENG, CEL GULAPA and FADZIL HAMZAH find out more about how new technology is being explored for a good cause...

American teenager Dawson Riverman was born without fingers on his left hand.

For the past 13 years, he struggled to perform the simplest tasks - from tying his shoelaces or holding a ball - because his parents could not afford a high-tech prosthetic hand.

Besides, such "hands" were rarely made in child sizes.

But Dawson's life changed after a stranger with a 3-D printer presented him with a custom-made blue and black prosthetic hand, reported the New York Times.

The stranger was part of e-Nable, a global network of volunteers who use their own 3-D printers and design skills to create prosthetic hands.

Founded in 2013, the community, which numbers in the thousands, has delivered an estimated 1,500 hands to 37 countries.

Most of the recipients are children.

To "request" for a hand, a parent has to fill up a form on the e-Nable website with information such as measurements and photograph.


An online tool will create a custom design for the child that can be downloaded into a printer.

The organiser will match volunteers with 3-D printers to the nearby recipient.

Each hand takes about 20 hours to print and three hours to assemble.

According to the e-Nable website, the 3-D printed hand can be used for simple tasks where having two hands are helpful - from holding a baseball bat, riding a bicycle or even swimming.

These "hands" come in names and designs that would appeal to children and adults.

One popular model, the Cyborg Beast, looks like a limb from a Transformer.

These hands can be fabricated in a variety of eye-catching colours, or even made to glow in the dark.

The recipients do not have to pay for these hands, but the cost of materials is about US$35 (S$50).

A professionally made, muscle-actuated hand can cost between US$6,000 and US$10,000.

Founder of e-Nable and research scientist at the Rochester Institute of Technology Jon Schull, said: "We are putting artificial hands in the hands of the people.

"There are opportunities for everyone to get involved - from hardware geeks to parents to kids."

Dawson, who now hopes to be a goalkeeper on his football team, is now paying it forward.

His family is teaming up with Life Christian School in Aloha to get a 3-D printer, reported Fox News.

"It's a great opportunity for Dawson to turn this disability into a profound strength that has a big impact on his world," said Life Christian School principal Angie Taylor.

BY THE numbers


The approximate cost of materials for the Raptor Hand model (US$35). It does not factor in production cost which can include assembly, fitting and testing done by a volunteer.

We are putting artificial hands in the hands of the people. There are opportunities for everyone to get involved - from hardware geeks to parents to kids.

- Mr Jon Schull, founder of e-Nable, an organisation which organises volunteers to make prosthetic hands using 3-D printers

3D PrintingUncategorised