Saddleback College and Swift Engineering Team Up to Design, Build and Donate Prosthetic Robotic Hands

For Immediate Release: 
August 7, 2017
Saddleback College students are gaining real world experience in developing tools and devices through a collaboration with Swift Engineering that benefits e-NABLE, a group of volunteers from across the globe that use 3D printers to create free prosthetics.

Advanced manufacturing students started creating the upper limb assistive devices about a month ago after Meg Hewins, director of Human Resources at Swift, contacted Israel Dominguez, director of Economic Workforce and Development at Saddleback, about working together to support this worthy cause.

Dominguez stated, “This is a great opportunity for Saddleback College to collaborate with a leading motorsport, aviation and aerospace manufacturing company, Swift Engineering, in the design, manufacturing, and assembly of robotic prosthetic hands, for not only for the applied learning experience for students in STEM, but more importantly for the humanitarian purpose of improving the quality of life of the recipients of these robotic hands.”

e-NABLE does not charge for the prosthetic devices it provides. Typically, a professionally made, muscle-actuated arm can cost up to $10,000, with much of the cost coming from the materials and parts alone.
The devices Saddleback students are making can be printed in a variety of materials, including durable nylon, ABS, PLA, and TPU. Students download files of the pre-designed hands and arms and then print the devices using the 3D printers in the Advanced Manufacturing Lab.

“The ability to engage other students and departments across campus will allow for a cross curricular collaboration,” said Glen Stevenson, Advanced Manufacturing department chair. “I am very excited for the opportunity to have the math, science and manufacturing students work alongside the engineers from Swift to develop working hands for deserving recipients.”    

Larry Perez, chair of the Computer Science Department stated, “I’m very excited to be part of this project working alongside our students promoting Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) awareness in the spirit of the maker movement.”

e-NABLE estimates it has delivered about 1,800 hands to children, with the devices holding up quite well to the activities of a typical child. Many have sent in videos of themselves using the hands to ride bikes, throw a ball with a dog, swim, and perform other activities.

For Vikram Rao, a student in advanced manufacturing, this project supports his dream of working in engineering research and development for a medical device company. “I have gained a valuable real-world and team-oriented experience through solving scaling problems, customizing parts for a specific person, and learning to work with other people’s thinking process,” he said. Fellow advanced manufacturing student Michael Thomas added that the group had the challenge of printing a hand to fit a child who lives on the other side of the country. 

“Since I was little I liked building and constructing things,” said business student Anton Shekhalevich. “It did not matter to me if it was putting Lego pieces together or carving out of wood logs. When I heard about the robotic hand project I got super excited that I could start creating again. It is an awesome opportunity for me to learn more about scaling, modeling, and 3D printing, especially when I know that my product will be worn by a person who has a missing limb. Having said that, the robotic hand project will give me the experience and knowledge that I may find useful in my future career as an engineer.”

Chris McDonald, a mechanical engineering major, said, "Being able to apply the knowledge I’ve learned in a way that helps out someone else is very rewarding. I want to make an impact in this world and even doing a small project like this is one step closer to doing that." 

Swift Engineering and Saddleback College hope this project will continue to grow.

“The e-NABLE program is a foundation outreach program at Swift Engineering and we are excited about the collaborative environment and innovative engineering talents that Saddleback has brought to the project,” said Andrew Streett, Swift Engineering’s chief scientist and director of Research and Development. “Swift and Saddleback bring expertise in multiple complementary disciplines that will help produce more accessible medical prosthetics. One of our more innovative outlets for the e-NABLE work are veterans, we are very excited to be part of these new relationships and teams that are forming. I think the energy and passion that both teams have added to the project will be the driving force behind making it successful and long term for everyone.”

For more information about e-NABLE, visit enablingthefuture.org/about.

Founded in 1983 and headquartered in San Clemente, CA, Swift Engineering is a vertically integrated, multi-disciplined manufacturing and engineering company specializing in the design, development and manufacturing of lightweight composite structures, components and vehicles. For more information on Swift Engineering, please visit www.swiftengineering.com.

Originally published August 7