The Helping Hand Project: Changing Lives One Hand at a Time

Swing a baseball bat, eat with a fork and knife, steer a bike with both handles – without two hands, a child can’t do any of these ordinary activities that most children take for granted. But now The Helping Hand Project (The HHP), a nonprofit organization based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, is using the latest advancements in 3D printing technology to make sure fewer children have to live life with such limitations.

The HHP is non-profit organization that was started by students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and specializes in providing 3D-printed prosthetic hands – free of charge – for children in need so they have every opportunity to live their lives to the fullest potential.

In the U.S., each year, at least 1,500 children are born with upper-limb differences. This loss of function may be restored with prosthetic devices, but the costs are high, and children may quickly outgrow the devices. In addition, many children who have physical disabilities and need prosthetic hands can use standard designs, but some require custom designs that fit their unique anatomies. Because of this, many families are unable to provide children with devices to reestablish full functionality.

In the fall of 2014, biomedical engineering students at UNC-Chapel Hill recognized this need and began working on prosthetic hands as a project under the University’s Biomedical Engineering Club. The club’s very first “helping hand” was built for a young boy named Holden Mora, who was born with symbrachydactyly, a condition in which the hand stops growing early in amniotic development. Using 3D-printed parts, the team created a hand for Holden for less than $40 worth of materials.

Since then, The HHP has printed hands for 20 children and continues to serve them by maintaining contact with these children so they may receive new devices as they grow. And through in-person meetings and online groups offered to the children and their families, The HHP provides support that goes far beyond simply providing a prosthetic device.

Students dedicated hours of their time developing these hands, using the resources available to them in the Biomedical Engineering Labs, along with a mix of open-source and custom designs. In 2015, when the demand for its 3D-printed hands outstripped the supply the nonprofit’s older 3D printers could deliver, The HHP partnered with Lenovo to help provide the performance and speed the nonprofit needed to keep its waiting list as short as possible.

Now, HHP engineers design and print devices using SOLIDWORKS applications, easily capturing their design ideas on the Lenovo ThinkStation P500. They also count on Lenovo’s lead ThinkStation engineer, Rodrigo Samper, to quickly print the 3D printer at Lenovo’s own facility based on the CAD files and the child’s hand specs received from The HHP. Having Lenovo’s engineers onboard to help cuts the printing time substantially, allowing children to receive their hands in just 18 to 24 hours.

Many children who have physical disabilities and need prosthetic hands can use standard designs, but some require custom designs that fit their unique anatomies. For all kinds of hands, The HPP engineers design and print devices using SOLIDWORKS applications on the ThinkStation P500. And to keep the waiting list for new prosthetics as short as possible, The HPP counts on Lenovo’s lead ThinkStation engineer to quickly 3D print devices at Lenovo’s own facility.

To learn more about The Helping Hand Project or find out how to get a device or support the cause, visit http://www.helpinghandproject.org/home.html.

Author information

Tom Salomone
Tom is a Vertical Marketing Manager at Lenovo Workstations.

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