People - The Next Dimension

It’s heartbreaking to see people, especially children, with missing limbs

People - The Next DimensionThis promotional company is using in-house 3-D technology to change lives.

It’s heartbreaking to see people, especially children, with missing limbs. These physical limitations frequently put people at a disadvantage when it comes to everyday activities.

Fortunately, innovators around the globe have harnessed the power of 3-D printing technology to create custom prosthetic-type pieces for those in need. In fact, one organization has built a global network of volunteers for that very reason. e-NABLE matches up donors and their individual printing capabilities with children and adults looking for customized 3-D hands that can be used to help with daily tasks, such as holding utensils, gripping handlebars and playing catch.

And, one e-NABLE volunteer is a member of the promotional industry. New Jersey-based Holy Cow Promos LLC regularly uses a 3-D printer to make prototypes of its custom products for the international promotional and retail industries. This past March, partner Sal Puglisi happened upon a story in the New York Times about e-NABLE, and realized he had the required technology right there in-house. “Each hand has to be specially sized and adapted to the needs of an individual,” says Puglisi. “I have the design capabilities to do that.”

Puglisi applied to be a volunteer and sent e-NABLE a sample hand to demonstrate his capabilities. He was quickly contacted by a coordinator looking to pair him with the parents of a Florida boy. They sent him measurements and photographs, as well as favorite colors and the boy’s name for personalization. Each hand takes about 30 to 40 hours on the printer, and all materials and labor are donated at no charge.

The components printed with a 3-D printer are made of PLA plastic, and Puglisi adds a combination of elastic cords, fishing line, screws and other hardware to construct the hand with movable parts. Velcro and leather are used to attach the piece to the body, and by bending the wrist or elbow, the wearer can initiate finger movement. “They don’t contain electronics like an actual prosthetic,” says Puglisi, “and the wearer must have at least a functional wrist or elbow to move the fingers.”

Volunteers have access to basic designs, created for free by other volunteers, and Puglisi has modified them for individual use. For instance, he constructed only three fingers on the first hand he made because of the young boy’s size. “His wrist was so small that a full hand would’ve been too heavy,” says Puglisi, “and you only need a thumb, index and middle finger to grip.”

For his second assignment, Puglisi developed a hand for a California girl with a short but operable thumb; Puglisi gave her thumb free range of movement so it could work in tandem with the printed piece.

“Parents are so grateful, because kids outgrow them, and actual prosthetics are very expensive,” says Puglisi. “They can’t afford that every year, so this is a more affordable alternative.”

Partner Marc Puglisi adds that Holy Cow Promos is currently working with overseas manufacturers to start developing silicone joints for more natural movement. “We want them to make basic parts in order to reduce the hours it takes on the printer and to produce them in greater numbers more quickly,” he explains. “Right now, we’re constructing one at a time, so it takes longer.”

He also hopes people in the promotional industry with 3-D printers will be willing to give their time to such a worthy cause. “You can literally do it in your office,” he says. “There are a lot of 3-D printers in this industry that can be used to help.”

As of this writing, the Puglisis were awaiting information for another child in need of a hand. “When we see photos of the child using it,” says Sal Puglisi, “that’s all the payment we need.”