On the 20th February 2017 Andrew, 5, and his family were directed to FabLab Warrington via a local, Warrington based, disability charity Reach. The family were invited in to discuss the possibility of developing a prosthetic hand with Jimmy and the team. Within this first meeting we discussed the concept of 3D printing, explored some of the projects the FabLab has already completed and reviewed a range of design ideas and possible solutions prior to moving onto the prototyping stages.

 

Following our initial contact with the family the team began sourcing design ideas and modelling on screen using a range of advanced 3D modelling software packages (CAD). This quickly transferred onto rapid prototyping using the Makerbot Replicator 2 (CAM)- we used a material called PLA which has a melting point of 240 degrees, our software allowed us to alter the print quality to experiment with different properties including strength and durability. Here is an initial wrist plate – this has been printed in hundreds of tiny layers with a honeycomb structure for speed and strength purposes.

 

After running some tests and developing an accurate scaled drawing the hand started to take shape. Our initial hand was made from 12 different components. This needed a number of finishing processes applying including removing base plates that are used when printing, removing the structures used to support more complex design ideas and ensuring a high quality finish.

 

The next stage of the process involved threading non-stretch cord through the inside of the hand to offer a fixed position for the hand when in the rest position. This also included a set of elastic cables threaded on the outside of the hand to allow the flexibility and range of movement when in use. We also added Velcro strapping in two places for fitting purposes and custom padding to the underside of the design for comfort while in use.

 

Following on from a 10 day prototyping process within the FabLab we invited Andrew and his family in for the unveiling and first fitting of his 3D printed prosthetic hand. We were joined on the evening by reporters from BBC News North West and made an appearance on TV that evening.

 

The following week saw us all appear on Facebook (with the feature video being viewed over 140,000 times!), Twitter, Warrington Guardian, The BBC News Website and The Mail Website. All showing a massive interest in the project and the success of the 3D printed prosthetic. Andrew and family were absolutely made up with the result and it has been so rewarding receiving imagery and video from the family home of Andrew using knives and forks for Sunday roast dinners! It has been truly amazing to see what was just an idea 10 days previously making such a positive impact on Andrew’s life.

Our third meeting saw Andrew and his family bringing ideas on development to the table and feedback in terms of the hands performance over time. The addition of leather straps to the inside of the hand for function and comfort, along with a range of different non-stretch cables being tested on the outside of the hand. The FabLab team was also able to present a second prototype that was more ergonomic in design. This included fingers that had been printed with a hinged mechanism within them.

Further development has followed and we are now looking at scaling and altering design files to suit a range of users including Andrew (Aged 5, Warrington), Samuel (Aged 5, Warrington) and Jayden (Aged 5, Nottingham). This has also seen the creation of the K-9 hand that is more natural in appearance and offers the advantage of not needing any metal screws to created the desired tension.

 

We also have the luxury of having on order a new 3D printer that will allow for our materials testing in the FabLab to come to fruition and offer the capacity for printing a single object in two materials. Our plan sees printing the main framework of the hand in carbon fibre with the  edges, that are used for joining the hand to the wrist in flexible plastic for both performance and comfort. It also offers the capacity for printing in two colours which will allow for the creation in the desired Iron Man colour-scheme.

 

Beamont Collegiate Academy, Long Lane, Warrington, WA2 8PX

Tel: 01925 579500 Email: fablab@bca.warrington.ac.uk