A Helping Hand
Cathedral Engineering Students Using 3-D Printer to Help others
Writer & Photographer: Lynda Hedberg Thies
We take for granted that when our children are born that they will be able to hold your finger, hold onto a table to pull themselves up and do something as simple as clap. For children that are born without fingers, struggling to perform even the smallest tasks, like tying a shoe or holding a ball can be challenging. The logical solution is prosthetics.
Prosthetic replacements are complex medical devices that can cost thousands of dollars, and with the pace that children grow buying a device can make this an impractical investment. So, many simply do without. The prosthetic hand can mean the difference between a child being able to participate in normal childhood experiences, like riding a bike or holding a bat to play a sport or sitting on the sidelines.
Michelle Vander Missen, Cathedral’s Department Head over STEM, Pre-Engineering, Business and Technology recognized the fit for her Engineering III students’ biomedical engineering project.
Vander Missen contacted Enable the Future to see if the project was a fit. The mission statement for e-NABLE is a “Global Network Of Passionate Volunteers Using 3-D Printing To Give The World A “Helping Hand” and with that Vander Missen knew she found a winner. The organization empowers volunteers who are using their 3-D printers, design skills and personal time to create free 3-D printed prosthetic hands for those in need – with the goal of providing them to underserved populations around the world. It is an online volunteer organization that e-NABLE began with one random act of kindness for one and has blossomed into a global movement that is now involving and helping thousands.
Cathedral already owns a 3-D printer and the school’s Holy Cross values made this program the perfect fit. So Vander Missen applied for the school to become an official local chapter as well as the students in the Engineering III class. And the best part is that they do not cost the family anything. Families simply apply online and the process gets underway helping them locate a local chapter.
“Our goal is for the students to do a technical engineering pitch for the design of their prosthetic hand,” Vander Missen says. “This is a true budget pitch which prepares them to move forward both on an academic grade for work they have done, research and analysis for the engineering design work behind it. This is also approval to move forward, which is exactly what we do in industry and engineering before you move forward with the design.”
The design names alone would excite most young children as they appear to be ripped right out of a comic book. Some names are Cyborg Beast, Talon Hand and Raptor Hand, and they look like limbs of a Transformer with bright eye-catching fluorescent colors and some can even glow in the dark. The children who have received them get attention for these superhero-style devices but, most importantly, they can begin to do the tasks they once only wished they could do.
The parts for each prosthetic hand costs about $20-$50 to make. They are assembled with volunteers, in this case Cathedral Engineering III students. The school has one 3-D printer but would like to have more so they are able to respond to the needs in a timelier manner. Vander Missen hopes to partner with a local engineering firm in the future.
Cathedral students successfully presented their budget pitches and will move forward with the certification process. Cathedral Junior, Jenna Helmen explained what this project meant to her.
“It was really cool to see how everything we are learning in this class can be put to use to work on a project knowing that when we get certified, that it will help a family in need,” Helmen says.
“The heart of engineering is solving problems for the community, and because Cathedral’s Engineering Department is founded on Holy Cross values and looking at what we can actually do for the world and the community,” Vander Missen says. “We are empowering students in engineering classes and STEM classes to make a real difference right now with real problems that we have so this is not a hypothetical problem. Rather, this is a family whose child is in need of a prosthetic hand, and we are preparing our students to solve that problem. I am very proud of these students’ efforts.”
Once the students and the school are certified, any requests that come from within the community, the students and the school will be ready to make a difference. In the meantime, the students are prepared for whatever the future holds in store for them.