Need a hand?

FVTC design classes use tech to improve lives

Sean P. Johnson
Posted by of Insight Publications

Technology can indeed make the world a better place.

Dean Sommerfeld has seen it firsthand.

Taking part in Fox Valley Technical College’s Technology Day, Sommerfeld, chairman of FVTC’s Mechanical Design department, demonstrated the power of 3D by showing how it can make everyday life better for those with physical disabilities. For less than $100 in material costs, today’s 3D printers can create a fully functioning prosthetic hand.

And that opens up a world of possibilities for those in need.

“A lot of people acquire this technology and after creating a few parts or puzzle pieces, they aren’t quite sure what to do next,” says Sommerfeld while manning the Portable 3D Printer Prosthetics display. “There are still many children who are born without fully functioning hands who can benefit from this rapid prototyping technology.”

As those children grow, they will also need new prosthetics, costing families thousands of dollars in medical costs. Enabling the Future, a worldwide group of open-source 3D printing advocates, seeks to help those families by pairing those in need with local partners who have 3D and rapid prototyping technology to create the needed prosthetics.

All the design files are open source and free of charge. It’s simply a matter of materials and time.

“Last semester, we did a hand for a girl in Pittsburgh,” Sommerfeld says. “We had a bit of a delay because she wanted pink and we had to find pink filaments — but it was a great project.”

Prosthetic printing is just one of the benefits FVTC has realized from its acquisition of various 3D technologies for its students. Using the equipment gives students at FVTC a chance to work with the same technology they will use in the workplace.

“It gives them real products for the portfolio they take to interviews,” Sommerfeld says. “It’s pretty powerful.”

The 3D printing technology was part of about 24 displays featuring the technology used every day in the classroom by FVTC, from welding simulators to a very realistic OB Delivery Simulator of a woman about to give birth. More than 200 students were expected to attending, including 100 from the Appleton Schools, as well as FVTC students and many instructors checking out their colleague’s work.

“Sometimes you get so focused on your own work that you don’t get to see the cool work of others,” says Doug Waterman, dean of IT and Distance Learning at FVTC.