Students Use 3D Printer to Help Local Farmer

Vic Worthington is the Tech Lab Instructor at Rochelle Middle School in Rochelle, Illinois. Several of his students are currently designing a prosthesis for a local farmer who lost his arm.

Printing the 3D prosthesisThe experience that students receive in the classroom affects them deeply: it helps them determine their interests and strengths, provides them with invaluable knowledge across many subjects, and molds their future. By introducing 3D printing into the curricula, teachers are able to offer a more varied and unique classroom experience.

One such unique experience is currently unfolding in Vic Worthington’s classroom at Rochelle Middle School. Worthington introduced the Afinia H800 into his classroom about a year ago. “Everyone is excited about it,” he says.

Idea to Impact

3D Printed ArmThree of Worthington’s 8th grade students, and one college sophomore, get to experience the added excitement of working on a 3D printing project with a big impact outside the classroom: creating a 3D-printed prosthesis for Jake, a local farmer who lost his arm. Worthington explains that living in a small town, everyone is “famous to some degree,” so he has known Jake’s story for some time.

“We now attend the same church,” tells Worthington. “We were passing out church bulletins together one Sunday in August and he wasn’t wearing his prosthesis.” Jake took that opportunity to comment about how his current prosthesis (that cost $10,000) would get incredibly dirty by working on farm equipment. He explained that it “wasn’t worth his time to clean it up to wear to town.”

After hearing that, a lightbulb went off for Worthington. “I’d heard of people 3D printing prostheses, so I asked if Jake would be comfortable letting a few of my students and I try to print one for him. The rest is history.”

Getting the Project Going

Students with computer and H800 3D printerNeither Worthington nor the students have ever worked on such a project before. To start, the students began researching prosthetic print files in an online database. “They discovered there was a large online community of people printing and donating prostheses to folks in need worldwide,” explains Worthington. “We joined the Google+ group that acts as their information hub (called e-NABLE) and found tons of information.”

After more research, Worthington and his students were able to track down the engineer who designed the prosthetic 3D print plans they chose for Jake. “He’s been very generous, and has agreed to design a customized version of the plan for us to print, once we send him some specific measurements on Jake,” clarifies Worthington. “That will really help to create a well-fitting arm that can truly improve Jake’s quality of life.”

Measuring Jake's armThe project is, of course, a process. “We’re still in the custom fitting phase with Jake. Due to his busy fall schedule, we weren’t able to get him in for measurements until last week,” says Worthington. “We printed a prototype (guessing at a size) as a means of assembling some sort of working model so we could work out the mechanical side of things. I gave him that prototype last weekend and he took it home to apply his experience with wearing a prosthesis and combine it with his mechanic’s eye for putting a good machine together. Hopefully he’ll be able to help us get the right design put together to suit his needs.”

Help with Everyday Duties

3D-printed arm holding a water bottleWorthington’s students are not attempting to create a prosthesis for Jake to wear during his laborious hours working in the field. “He’s got a heavy duty arm for working,” explains Worthington. “When we first discussed it, Jake asked for something that would let him do simple tasks… like hold his new baby (due any minute now!) and drink a cup of coffee at the same time. He’d also like to be able to pass out church bulletins more efficiently.”

The students have been hard at work formulating an arm to meet those requirements. Worthington says, “I think what we’re working on will let at least that much happen,” adding, “the kids who are working on the prosthetic project have been flourishing so far.”

Worthington expresses that he’s confident that the students will be able to provide Jake with an arm that will allow him to bottle feed his new baby, while holding him or her. “I’m pretty sure having my students make that possible would be just about the most worthwhile homework I’ve ever assigned,” he says.

Adding 3D Printing into Curricula

Student inspecting 3D-printAlthough several students are getting to work on such a meaningful project, Worthington aims to expand the 3D printing opportunities to the rest of the students by working the technology into the curricula. “As we dug deeper into what folks out there are doing with prostheses, we’ve come across some prosthetics-based 3D printing curricula online that we plan to try out in the spring semester,” he says.

We look forward to hearing more about the students’ prosthesis project as it progresses!

For educators interested in incorporating 3D printing into their curriculum, please see our Educators webpage, or learn more about our 3D Printing Project-Based Learning STEM Kits.