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While the term 3D printing is still relatively new to me (please excuse my ignorance!) and I have been sitting around and contemplating the uses of 3D printing technology and the various uses it can have. I was little taken aback and surprised to know the folks on the other side of the world already know a lot about this technology and have already begun working with it. Nevertheless, I like the cause for which they are driving to use the 3D printing technology. It is to make prosthetic limbs for people who are born without hands. Probably, one of the best and innovative ways of putting technology to use is to make a great difference in the lives of a lot of physically challenged people.

How did this whole concept come into being? About 4 years ago, the 3D printing industry was taking a whole new dimension when Rafael Silva and Ivan Owen decided to work together to come up with an artificial hand for a boy in South Africa. They created and designed and shared their ideas to the open source community.

This lead to the formation of an online network of volunteers who came forward to give the world “A Helping Hand”. The beauty of this whole thought, is that most of these volunteers are themselves born without their hands or are people who have lost them due to accident, disease or war. This team of volunteers have approximately provided 2,000 free hands and arms to those in need in over 50 countries.

What makes the 3D hand better than the conventional prosthetic limb? It is definitely cost effective, while the regular prosthetic can cost anywhere between 2, 50, 000 to 25, 00, 000 rupees. The 3D limbs cost far lesser than that approximately around 2,500 rupees.

Easy to make, it means that a while assembling a regular prosthetic limb can take months, a 3D printed limb can be made just in a day. How is this done? A scanned image of the healthier arm is captured for exact measurements using a 3D scanner. This image is sent to the 3D printer for printing. Voila! The 3D printed arm is printed using materials such as high grade plastic or bridge nylon. However, volunteers are speculating the use of eco-friendly materials to manufacture these limbs.

Well it has loads of other benefits too. These limbs can are highly customizable it can be made to specific to the requirements of the owner. To give an example, if the person interested in biking, the arm that helps him or her do that particular activity can be made.

This way of creating artificial hands is also extremely helpful for children who need them. Children quickly outgrow a regular prosthetic limb. It can be awfully expensive process to keep replacing the limbs until the child reaches maturity. Also, users of the conventional prosthetic limbs who tried out the 3D printed limbs said they felt more comfortable wearing them; as prosthetic socket discomfort associated with the traditional prosthetic limb was almost absent.

The 3D printing technology has definitely been a boon to all these physically unique people around the world. This is a truly amazing achievement and I do hope this virtuous mission continues to help and enable a lot of lives around us.