3D Printing Helps to Make Creating Prosthetic Limbs Easier and More Cost-Effective
A 7-year-old California native, named Faith Lennox, never thought much about getting a prosthetic limb to replace her left hand. Not until she found out she could design her own, strap it on easily and then jump on her bike and pedal away without a care in the world. “I don’t think we’ll ever get her off it,” said her mother, Nicole, smiling with resignation as she watched her daughter continue to circle the parking lot in their Orange County suburban neighborhood.
How easy the prosthetic was made and so easy to use represents a breakthrough in small, lightweight hands that are cost-effective and easy for children to use. It weighs only a pound and costs just $50 to construct out of the same materials used to make drones and automobile parts.
Once Faith outgrows the arm in six months to a year, a replacement prosthetic limb can be made just as cheaply and easily, said Mark Muller, a prosthetics professor at California State University, Dominguez Hills, who helped with the designing of the arm. He said a heavier adult version with sensors attached to a person’s muscles would run $15,000 to $20,000.
Faith is oldest of three children, she had compartment syndrome when her position during childbirth cut off the flow of blood to her left forearm, irreparably damaging tissue, muscle and bone. After a nine-month bout to try and save the limb, doctors determined they had to amputate just below the elbow.
She’s tried out almost every other version of the prosthetics on the market but couldn’t find one with the same value and easy usability as the 3D printed versions.
Her parents were working with a nonprofit group entitled “E-Nable” to get her a 3D-printed prosthetic limb, but the technology is so new there’s a long waiting list, her mother said. Then she learned of what “Build It Workspace” could do from a friend whose son visited with his Scout troop. The small studio teaches people to use high-tech printers, provides access to them for projects and does its own commercial printing.
The “Build It” firm was founded less than a year ago by mechanical engineer Mark Lengsfeld, has printed out everything from pumps for oil and gas companies to parts for unmanned aerial vehicles, this was the prosthetic limb Lengsfeld and his employees had built.
So he used E-Nable’s open-source technology and summoned Cal State, Dominguez Hills’ experts for guidance.
TV cameras were around to capture Faith riding off with her prosthetic limb on her bike Tuesday morning, and Lengsfeld admitted he was nervous. He was up all night Monday finishing the hand, he wanted to test it himself to be sure it worked.
“But she did fine with it,” he said, chuckling.
She noted it did fine by her as well.
“I didn’t have to lean so much,” she said of the difficulty of navigating and steering a bike with just one hand.
Afterward, as more than a dozen reporters and photographers, as well as school and city officials, family friends and others, crowded into Build It’s small studio, the little girl sat shyly in front of a huge poster reading “Hand It To Faith” that Lengsfeld had made for her.