By David Esteppe
Three students at Greenbrier East High School (GEHS) are working through the pre-engineering program as part of their curriculum. Using state-of-the-art 3D printing equipment and technology, the three students have produced an inexpensive prosthetic hand called “The Raptor,” which will actually be donated and used by a young person awaiting a prosthetic hand.
The work being done by juniors Sarah Leslie and Erin Leslie, and sophomore Taylor Lewis, is coordinated by their engineering instructor Kevin Warfield and an organization called e-NABLE.
The efforts of the young GEHS engineers-to-be just missed being written about in an article in last month’s Popular Science magazine. According to Popular Science, one in 1,500 children are born with a partially formed upper limb, and for every child who gets a prosthetic device, hundreds go without. One of the reasons is most families cannot afford a hand replacement, which normally costs thousands of dollars.
Through volunteers and classrooms fortunate to have 3D printers, more than 400 hands have been produced and distributed to people in need of hands. With engineering instruction, a $30 kit and two dollars’ worth of plastic, an inexpensive durable 3D printed hand can be churned out in about eight hours. Recipients of the hand enter their measurements into e-Nable’s “Handomatic” software. The GEHS students used these measurements provided by a particular person and created their first hand. It is being sent off for quality assurance at e-Nable and then will be gifted to the recipient.
The “Raptor Hand” uses a simple tension mechanism. Strings run along the undersides of the fingers to the top of a gauntlet. When the wrist bends, the strings act as tendons, opening and closing the fingers with enough precision for some users to hold spoons and eat cereal.
Warfield says he has been told that as his students create the next hand, they may actually be working with the recipient in person at GEHS.
To understand 3D printing, the Mountain Messenger posed a question. Would it be possible to use one earring to 3D print a replacement for a lost one? Without hesitation, and with admirable clarity, they took turns explaining that the 3D printer isn’t a copying machine, but yes, they could make the earring. They picked up a few instruments which they would use to measure the existing earring, enter the parameters into another type of software and then feed that to the 3D printer to create the replacement. They pointed out, “Of course it won’t be a diamond earring, it will be plastic.” Follow up question: “Could a life-size Brad Pitt be produced?” Within seconds the chorus was, “Yes, we would only have to create him in parts, and then you could put him together.” The Mountain Messenger ordered two.
Warfield explained. “Three-D printing is going to change the way a lot of things get produced. The ability is already here to 3D print a house. The machines here at GEHS are using plastic, but there are 3D printers using concrete as well.”
GEHS is the only high school in West Virginia using 3D printing in the classroom. The three students, who worked on this project mostly on their own time, are actually pioneering a new class that will be offered for credit at GEHS next year. These students will then serve as mentors for next year’s class which will be a fundamentals class added to the current engineering series.