Lending a prosthetic helping hand

Jose Garcia, a 22-year-old biomedical student, demonstrates his custom designed prosthetic hand made by a 3D printer.

When he’s not in class at Orange Coast College, Jose Daniel Garcia is frequently hard at work on a 3D printing machine in his garage.

One of his recent creations was a prosthetic hand, an incredible yet straightforward piece of machinery powered by a tension cable made from strong fishing line and triggered with a string. Garcia sprung it to action with a flex of his wrist, so that the prosthetic fingers clamped down on a cup.

Garcia, a 22-year-old biomedical engineering major, works with 3D printing companies to distribute these prosthetics for free to people in need.

“We take things for granted,” he said. “Being born healthy, even having the ability to hold a cup or brush your teeth is something that not everyone has.”

Garcia’s journey into 3D printing and volunteer work started with his high school mentor.

Scott Walker, an instructor at the Garden Grove Unified School District taught Garcia how to use 3D printing machines and encouraged him to seek out volunteer opportunities where he could put his printing skills to use.

From there, Garcia started working with organizations that connect volunteer engineers and manufacturers with people who need affordable prosthetics the most. Garcia has volunteered with Airwolf 3D, a Costa Mesa company that produces 3D printers and also donates parts and hosts community events such as the ocMaker Challenge, a student 3D printing competition.

Custom-designed prosthetics can be absolutely critical for some people with injuries or deformities, said Garcia. Garcia and others like him carefully work around a person’s specific anatomy and use special materials to make comfortable components for clients.

“The organizations have designs we can download and use,” Garcia said. “I try to see what I can tweak for specific people.”

Garcia said that physical pain is not the only thing clients suffer from.

“Bullying is a problem for kids with injuries or deformities,” he said. “Bullied kids’ parents can reach out to us through these organizations.”

Garcia said he pays about up to $30 out of pocket for materials for each prosthetic. But he doesn’t charge anything for the products he makes.

The dedication to helping others from people like Garcia, combined with the general affordability of 3D printed prosthetics can make a miraculous change in someone’s life.

These plastic parts are vastly more affordable than the cutting-edge prosthetics made with intricate engineering and expensive materials like titanium, which can have price tags of up to $11,000.

As 3D printing technology improves and new materials are developed, printers become more affordable and reliable, and their usefulness in manufacturing is exploding.

The hard, plastic material most common to home 3D printers is called ABS, Acrylonitrile Butadlene Styrene. Polyamide is a much tougher, more flexible plastic.

Other options include resin, ceramic, and metal powders. With these more advanced materials available, all kinds of possibilities have opened up. As an example, circuit boards can be made entirely in a 3D printer, eliminating the need for soldering.

With the latest 3D printing technology, some replacement organs can be 3D printed using the patient’s own cells as material. Currently printable organs include skin and the bladder. According to Garcia, the idea of printing hearts, livers, and kidneys are a hot topic in the industry as well.

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