Hands up if you love 3D printing innovations!

“My goal is to be able to drive a car one day” says Archie, a South African father with a left hand amputation. Archie and I met at a training workshop where he volunteered as a client for trainees, like myself, who are learning how to make and fit a 3D printed “Robohand“.


Robohand’s “3D printing for Awesome People” workshop prepares you to create 3D printed anatomically driven, custom fitted devices for individuals as an alternative to standard prosthetics.


As a start, the workshop introduced us to the incredible story of how and why Richard van As developed Robohand. Robohand is what you get when you combine an individual’s determination to make a more effective prosthetic hand, with the exciting possibilities of the advancing technology industry.  See Richard’s full story here.  All of us at the workshop were deeply inspired by Richard’s enthusiasm and conviction that Robohand can change the lives of those who cannot afford expensive, rigid prosthetics – thus, highly motivated, we got working and learning from day one.


How do you make a Robohand?

The process starts by 3D printing a carefully measured and designed template of a hand. 3D printing is the process of extruding layer upon layer of plastic over the same area, building-up a 3D composite. Roughly 10 hours later (usually overnight) you have the different parts needed to make a hand.  In the same way that we each have unique fingerprints, so does each individual have a uniquely shaped hand, hence next Robohand is custom fitted. From there a technique called splinting, used mainly by Occupational Therapists and Hand Therapists, is adapted to make the hand and arm supports that the 3D printed parts attach to. The splinting material is made from thermoplastic that softens under heat, allowing for safe moulding of each individual hand. Thermoplastic is breathable and enables wearers to bath and swim with the device.


How does the Robohand work?

Robohand is powered by the body’s wrist movement, so as the wrist flexes (moves downwards) so the hand closes. This requires the wearer to use muscles and movements they already have to pick up, hold and release objects. Strings and elastic bands mimic the tendons in the hand as much as possible to get smooth gliding movements of the fingers. The fingers have been shaped and coated with plastic for better grip.

Where can you get one?

Robohand have made their patterns and assembly manuals open source on a platform called Thingiverse for 3D enthusiasts to create their own basic Robohands. These devices will most likely need to be fitted by a trained professional. At the moment Robohand is in the process of training people across the country to be able to mould and fit the 3D printed hands. To find out more visit www.robohand.net

Innovations that make assistive devices more accessible and effective brings a whole new perspective to how we approach long standing problems – we love game-changers at DGMT!


* In September Renisha is off to Lebanon to fit Robohands on war refugees.  We will keep you updated!  

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