Wyoming Students Marvel at Practical, Charitable Uses of 3D Printers

Eighth-graders Dometri Mitz and Tom Craddock get help from para-educator Pam Graves trying on a prosthetic hand

Dometri Mitz was pretty impressed with the range of uses for 3D printers.

The Wyoming Regional Center eighth-grader had seen news reports about the technological advances in 3D printing and how they’re the latest rage in manufacturing technology. But he’d never considered they could be used to create some pretty awesome prosthetic limbs for kids.

“It’s the coolest thing,” Dometri said after a recent presentation at his school by Aaron Brown, a business owner who makes prototypes for manufacturers using 3D printers. “I didn’t know technology could go this far.”

Brown has taken the four 3D printers he uses in his business and, during down time, puts them to use creating prosthetic limbs for children. He began his efforts after connecting with a group called e-NABLE, an international non-profit agency that provides prosthetic limbs for children.

During the past 18 months the group has provided some 800 mostly prosthetic hands to kids around the world, and made wearing them a bit more colorful. They are donated free of charge to those who need them, and come in the colors and designs of sports teams and superheroes.

One of Brown’s favorites is a Batman-themed hand, though one designed after the comic-book hero Wolverine was a hit with his classmates. The hand comes complete with claws that can be removed.

“You take a kid who has what’s perceived as a disability and maybe gets bullied, and they put one of these on and the next thing you know, they’re a superhero,” Brown said. “You take about $10 worth of plastic and turn it into something empowering.”

Brown said he’s donated eight prosthetic hands for kids since he’s been volunteering with e-NABLE, adding he’d stack the group’s prosthetics against any mechanical device on the market. He said each e-NABLE prosthesis is equivalent to those that would normallycost a parent between $2,000 and $6,000.

Brown traveled to Dallas in early February as part of an e-NABLE event that brought together several volunteers, the kids they’ve helped and characters from the Marvel Universe LIVE! arena events. Rick Otte, Dometri’s teacher at Wyoming Regional, said Brown’s visit showed his students practical applications of 3D printing, which they’ve been studying in class.

“They’ve never seen one before, so to get to see one for the first time is great,” Otte said. “We’ve been watching the stories about 3D printers on CNN for kids, but this is the real world application they haven’t seen yet.”

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