Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A Helping Hand

It's hard to turn on the news or read the paper without seeing mentions of Obamacare and medical health costs.  Everyone knows someone who has struggled to pay for medical bills.  You simply never know when an emergency might happen and not everyone is financially prepared for what can be devastating consequences.  Though many groups are working on lowering the cost of medications or improving insurance, one thing seems to never be mentioned- prosthetics.  More than 1.6 million people in the US have some type of limb loss so there is a prevalent demand for affordable and effective prosthetics.  One solution has arise from several sources that could potentially easily solve this problem- 3D printing.

3D printing begins with a design, usually in a software program, but sometimes an already existing object can be scanned.  Once the printer has the designs of what it is supposed to print, it begins to layer thin slices of the material on top of one another, adding height to its length and width.  This is done so effectively that you will not be able to see the breaks in layers.  This technology has already been used for industrial purposes for years and has recently been applied in other fields.

There are several companies already established that have begun utilizing this technology, most of them focusing on prosthetic hands.  Robohand was created in South Africa by a man named Richard van As who lost a finger in a woodworking accident.  He was unable to pay for an expensive prosthetic and began looking into alternatives for other laymen in his situation.  He and a partner began working with two 3D printers and soon began producing low cost prosthetics for anyone from laborers who had had accidents to children born missing appendages.  These prosthetics are environmentally friendly and purposely use materials that are long lasting and durable so the wearer will not need to pay for frequent replacements.  As of 2013, they have made over 200 prosthetics.  Visit their website if you would like to donate.

This idea spawned many other groups to follow in their footsteps.  Another is called Enabling the Future that now has over 3600 members that print and assemble the prosthetics.  They encourage anyone who would like to help out at any step of the process.  You can download their designs to print or contact one of their printers to get parts to assemble the prosthetics.  On average, a hand costs $20-$50 to make and an arm $50-$150.  They even provide resources to buy your own printer if you would like.  Check out their page if you would like to get involved.

This idea is not only creative but also innovative.  Medical companies have long held a monopoly on equipment and resources that many people depend on.  The idea that everyday people can produce something more effective than huge corporations is quite amazing.  The process is only improving and these 3D printed prosthetics are only becoming more prevalent.  By keeping it low cost and easily available, less people will be forced to spend all their money on medical expenses and this could even change the way the medical companies are currently operating.  

If you still are not convinced that this technology is creative and worth continuing, this man compares his $42K prosthetic to a $50 3D printed one.  You may be surprised.


"What Is 3D Printing? How Does 3D Printing Work?" 3D Printing., n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2015.

McLean, L. D. (2005). Organizational culture's influence on creativity and innovation: A review of the literature and implications for human resource development. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 7(2), 226-246.

Smith, Douglas G. "InMotion: Prosthetic Rehabilitation and Technology, Options and Advances for Seniors." InMotion: Prosthetic Rehabilitation and Technology, Options and Advances for Seniors. Amputee Coalition of America, 18 Aug. 2014. Web. 10 Mar. 2015.

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