Printing a prosthetic hand with the MakerBot

Over the past week, Bits & Pieces has gotten up close and personal with the versatile Atmel-powered MakerBot. Indeed, the 3D printer is routinely used for a wide variety of projects, including helping NASA explore the final frontier and creating the physical objects that power CG-animated movie magic.

Today we’ll be taking a closer look at how the MakerBot printed a prosthetic device for two-year-old Huntsville, Ala. toddler Kate Berkholtz who was born missing four finger on her left hand. Although the toddler is unfazed by the absent digits, Kate caught the attention of engineers at Zero Point Frontiers who had recently purchased a MakerBot 3D printer.

“When Kate was first born and we realized she was missing her fingers,” Michael Berkholtz told WHNT. “We went to a lot of other places like Baltimore, Philadelphia and Atlanta to kind of find out what type of options we had.”

However, the Berkholtz family didn’t want to go the surgical route and Michael says he never would have imagined a bio-plastic made from corn known as Polylactic acid would be a viable option for his daughter to potentially have a 3D printed fully-functioning hand.

“What’s exciting about this is if you can get one design and it works really well then potentially there are other people out there who may have other ideas who could take what we’ve seen on Kate and make that a whole new design,” Berkholtz explained.

Shawn Betts of Zero Point Frontiers expressed similar sentiments, noting that the scalability and affordability of a 3D printing approach addresses the issue of kids constantly outgrowing their fitted prosthetics.

“The cost of one of these hands is under $5,” said Betts. “[Plus], we can do a couple of designs by changing little parts that cost 50 cents or less… This technology is just amazing.”

Kate’s dad Michael concurred.

“You know it’s really cool to get in on the front end of this and try to eventually help other who have more challenges than Kate does.”

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