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Health, Science & Tech

3-D Printers Give Way To New Generation Of Inexpensive Prosthetics

U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Advances in 3-D printing are making prosthetic limbs more affordable and easier to acquire.

A global community called e-Nabling the Future is making low-cost prosthetic hands across the world. A traditional prosthetic limb can cost a person thousands of dollars, but the hands produced by e-Nabling, are free.

Multiple designs are available on the organization’s website and aren't copyrighted. Once volunteers print and complete the assembly process, the hands are shipped across the globe to those in need.

Liz Whitewolf with the Carnegie Science Center said it's especially helpful for children who go through multiple prosthetics while growing. 

“Every couple years the kids need to purchase a new prosthetic if they’re going to use a prosthetic hand," she said. "But when you have a 3-D printed hand, it’s very easy to just go ahead and get the next size up printed and it’s also free to them."

Whitewolf, the technical and educational manager at Fab Lab with the science center, is working with a group of young adults to print and assemble the prosthetic hands. She said the limbs are simple, but durable. 

“It has a fairly firm grip," she said. "You can adjust the firmness of the grip with a screwdriver, but you can pick up things that are pretty heavy with them and they’re pretty versatile.”

The hands are made out of PLA plastic, which makes the prosthetics very light. They have five digits, however there is only one motion to control the entire piece. It’s either gripping or not.

Fab Lab is hosting an event where members of the public will be able to assemble prosthetic hands at the Science Center on June 25 from noon to 2 p.m.