Weekly Feature



2017-07-12 / Lifestyles

Students to design, fabricate prosthetic hands using 3-D printers

by HOLLY N. LIPKA Reporter


Katelyn McCarthy, 9, will receive a 3-D-printed prosthetic hand from the program Hand in Hand, powered by AT&T. Ed Hawkins, right, examines Katelyn’s elbow before taking measurements for the prosthetic. Hawkins is a technology teacher at Sweet Home High School and leads the program, where approximately four dozen students in grades seven through 12 will create the 3-D-printed hands for three recipients, including Katelyn. Katelyn McCarthy, 9, will receive a 3-D-printed prosthetic hand from the program Hand in Hand, powered by AT&T. Ed Hawkins, right, examines Katelyn’s elbow before taking measurements for the prosthetic. Hawkins is a technology teacher at Sweet Home High School and leads the program, where approximately four dozen students in grades seven through 12 will create the 3-D-printed hands for three recipients, including Katelyn. Nine-year-old Katelyn Mc- Carthy knows the first thing she will do once she receives her 3-D-printed prosthetic right hand.

“I’m going to ride my bike,” she said.

Katelyn, of Derby, was born without a hand, just like Liam Hilliker, 5, of Silver Creek, and Caedan Muldoon, 4, of Lackawanna.

With some help from 45 middle and high school students enrolled in the first installment of Hand in Hand, powered by AT&T with WNY STEM, the three will each receive a lightweight 3-D-fabricated prosthetic hand designed just for them.


A 3-D prosthetic hand like this one will be printed for Katelyn McCarthy, 9, Liam Hilliker, 5, and Caedan Muldoon, 4. A 3-D prosthetic hand like this one will be printed for Katelyn McCarthy, 9, Liam Hilliker, 5, and Caedan Muldoon, 4. The nine-day program, which began on July 5, introduces students entering grades seven through 12 to technology skills in 3-D printing, engineering design, computer coding and advanced fabrication.

“This is a project that’s more than just learning technology, engineering design and science. More importantly, it’s about the human element: demonstrating leadership, producing a product with a team and doing good in the world,” Michelle Kavanaugh, WNY STEM president, said in a statement.

So far, students in the program, 10 of whom are from the Amherst-Williamsville area, have made cardboard hands, molded their fingers to see how a finger works, and created their own nametags using the program Tinkercad, a 3-D computer-aided design tool. They also spoke with two occupational therapists, Janice Tona and Nate Ramsey, who is an amputee, from the Center for Assistive Technology. Together they taught the students the realities of life with one hand.

The students met Katelyn, Liam and Caedan on July 6 to measure them and see what colors they wanted for their prosthetic.

Meeting the recipients made Derek Baker, an eighth-grader at Mill Middle School, feel important.

“We learned about what we can do for a recipient, and it was really eye-opening,” he said. “I feel like I’m important by being able to help them.”

Jordan Marshall, a 10th-grader at Williamsville East High School, is also enrolled in the program.

“I’ve learned so much so far, and this program is just a great opportunity,” she said. “I think it’s great that we can make a difference in these kids’ lives.”

To make the prosthetic hands, students will use existing files from e-NABLE, an online community that creates and designs 3-D-printed hand devices for people all over the world for free.

The community has more than 8,000 members who are engineers, artists, students, parents, occupational therapists, prosthetists, designers, teachers, writers and more.

Through e-NABLE, approximately 2,000 devices have been created and gifted to individuals in more than 45 countries since it launched in 2013.

Ed Hawkins, a Sweet Home High School technology teacher for the past 23 years, leads the program at Health Sciences Charter School, 1140 Ellicott St. He has experience teaching 3-D printing by implementing it in his classes.

“The concept of 3-D printing is relatively simple,” said Hawkins. “You can produce shapes that you can’t make in any other way and much more easily. Where you used to make three or four different parts and put them together, now you can print that shape all in one piece.”

With Katelyn, Liam and Caedan’s measurements, the students will use a digital file from e-NABLE and scale the prosthetic up or down. After scaling, the students will begin slicing, which will break down the model into multiple layers.

“The whole idea of 3-D printing is that it’s built out of layers,” said Hawkins. “The digital file will be sliced into the layers, and for something like this, we’ll need 10 layers per millimeter height. It’s not a fast process, and some parts will have to run for 10 to 12 hours.”

Very basic mechanical prosthetics start around $10,000 and can cost up to $80,000, he said. In contrast, the cost for a 3-D-printed prosthetic costs around $10 to $30 for materials.

“This concept is getting better and better, and it just opens up so many opportunities,” he said.

Strings will be attached to the prosthetic, which will allow the fingers on the hand to grip when Katelyn, Liam and Caedan flex their elbows.

In school, Hawkins tries to make his activities as real as possible and often, it ends up feeling artificial. This program helps make what he teaches a reality, he said.

“Kids just don’t often get a chance to do that, to learn something real and see how it helps,” said Hawkins. “This is too cool for words.”

Amy McCarthy, Katelyn’s mother, thinks it’s great to be a part of Hand in Hand.

“It’s neat for her to see other kids like her,” said Mc- Carthy. “It’s also neat to see the ideas these kids have because I think these are the kids that are actually going to develop what’s going to work for them in the future.”

The finished prosthetics will be given to the recipients on Aug. 15.

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