Students Create 3D-printed Prosthetic Hands for Children in Need

The printers whirred on a table inside Molly Graham’s internet business class at Northshore High School, their robotic arms tirelessly working through an 11-hour process that would result in the creation of hands from a spool of plastic-like fiber called PLA filament.

Authement smiled. Groom smiled. Watching the hands emerge from the filament satisfies the brain. Knowing those hands might make life better for a child in need satisfies the soul. Assistant Principal Bill Gallagher and his daughter, Addie, watch the 3-D printers in action.

Authement, 18, didn’t expect this when she signed up for Graham’s class. In fact, she says, she didn’t even think she would be that interested in internet business.

“But this is my favorite class by far," said Authement, a junior at the Slidell high school. “This lets you see there can be another side of business. It’s not just how many dollars you can make, but how many smiles you can make.’’

Authement, Groom and the other students in Graham’s class have spent the past couple of weeks preparing and constructing the hands as part of a 3-D printing class.

A student uses plastic string and screws during one of the steps to make prosthetic hands. The students closely monitor the four printers that fabricate the hands and then do additional assembly work once they leave the printer. 

Graham said Northshore was able to purchase a 3-D printer with a grant from the school's parent-teacher association last year. “I wanted the kids to see it in action before they went to college,’’ she said.

Addie’s Angels, a local nonprofit that helps provide assistance to kids who have lost the use of a limb, helped the school purchase several additional 3-D printers and cover the cost of the prosthetic hands curriculum, which comes from a New Orleans company called PatentDrive.

In addition to using the 3-D printers, Graham said the curriculum also dives into the invention and patent process. Addie Gallagher shows the high school students how her prosthetic hand works. After the Northshore students are finished working on the prosthetic hands, they are returned to PatentDive, which then sends them to a nonprofit to be distributed to children in need in other countries, Graham said.

“They (the students) love it, especially knowing it’s going to be used by a needy child," she said. A PatentDive representative said the hands are most likely destined for Uganda. Addie’s Angels has a deep connection with Northshore High School. Bill Gallagher, an assistant principal at the school, and his wife, Amiee Gallagher, founded the nonprofit after their daughter, Addie, was born without a left hand.   

Gallagher said Addie’s Angels offered to cover the cost of the curriculum. School and district administrators vetted the proposal and signed off on it last year.

Addie, now 9 and a student at Whispering Forest Elementary, visited Graham’s class on Friday (Feb. 22) to show the students how her own prosthetic hand works. 

The students watched intently as Addie showed them how the fingers on her hand open and close. She, in turn, watched intently as Authement and Groom explained the 3-D printing process and showed how the printed hand works.

  The hands coming from the 3-D printers at Northshore are less sophisticated than Addie’s prosthetic. But they’ll nonetheless go a long way in helping children live more fulfilling lives, Graham and the students said. “I love helping people," Groom said. 

Contact Teter Orthotics & Prosthetics for all your prosthetic or orthotic care questions or needs. We’ve been providing expert prosthetic and orthotic services in Michigan since 1955 and have grown to more than 20 locations, including Traverse City, Newaygo, Alma, Three Rivers, and  St. Joseph!

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