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An Interview with Jeremy Simon, e-NABLE

As we have noted in several of our blog postings, in addition to all the interesting things hobbyists can make with 3D printers, the technology has also made it possible to build tools and gadgets to help people. We originally came across e-NABLE back in December 2014 when we heard about their work creating 3D printed hands for children. Truly an example of 3D innovation and ingenuity, the company is primarily composed of volunteers giving freely of their time and talents for the greater good. Recently we had the chance to catch up with Mr. Jeremy Simon, who is a volunteer with the organization and also serves on the e-NABLE leadership team. The interview was conducted via email and the transcript is below.

1) When was e-NABLE founded and why?
e-NABLE was founded in 2013 by Jon Schull, a research scientist based at Rochester Institute of Technology, when he started coordinating offers for aid and requests for 3D printed hands in the comments of a video about the Robohand. e-NABLE began as a match-making service centered around a map, but the community quickly branched out into designing and improving 3D printed prosthetic device and building systems for better distributing them. Today the community numbers in the thousands and has delivered hands in 40 countries. Watch here to see Jon Schull discuss the origins of e-NABLE and watch this TED talk from Ivan Owen, co-creator of the Robohand, about the community.

2) Who are the key employees and their roles? Have any of them had 3D printing design experience prior to volunteering for e-NABLE?
The e-NABLE Volunteer Community doesn?t have any employees. We?re all volunteers. The community is supported by the Enable Community Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit. The Enable Community Foundation has 3 directors and 2 employees currently. The directors are Jon Schull, Ivan Owen and Marla Parker. The employees are Jen Owen, who runs the enablingthefuture.org web site and social media, and Melina Brown, who leads the Matching Team. The Matching Team is responsible for matching volunteers with recipients who need devices.

Among the volunteers in the e-NABLE community, many of them do have prior 3D printing design experience, and they bring those skills to e-NABLE to help create new and improved designs, which are then shared freely with the community.

3) What type of printer(s) are you using to create your prosthetics?
There are many different kinds of printers being used. Most of them are consumer-level FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) type printers. Popular brands include Ultimaker, FlashForge, Makerbot, Printrbot, Airwolf, and others.

4) Do you print anything in addition to hands currently? If not, are you thinking about expanding to other limbs in the near future?
Currently, the focus is on hands, but there are also arm designs being tested. Volunteers are free to work on whatever designs they want, but as a community, we have been cautious about exploring lower-limb prosthetics due to the risk of injury if a part fails.

5) Are the parts (with the exception of the string/line and screws) all built using a 3D printer?
All of the plastic components are built using a 3D printer. In addition to these parts, various assembly materials are needed, including foam padding, velcro, flexible and non-flexible cords, and screws. All of the assembly materials can be found online or at a hardware store.

6) Does your company serve both adults and children? How does someone in need contact you for a solution?
Our main focus is on children, but we have helped adults as well. Anyone looking for a device should start by sending a blank email to letsgetstarted@enablingthefuture.org. They will then receive a link to a form they can fill out to get the process started.

7) Can you talk a little bit about the design and printing process? How long does it take?
The printing process takes around 10-20 hours, depending on the size of hand being produced and print settings used.

The design process varies greatly. Some designs take months to evolve, while others come together very quickly. When we created the Raptor Hand, I provided project management oversight for a team of about half a dozen skilled designers. As a result, that design came together very quickly, in about six weeks from start to finish.

8) An article from December on 3DPrint.com offered several statistics about how fast you have grown, the number of prosthetic hands created, and an increase in the number of designs. What do those numbers look like now, basically six months further down the road?
e-NABLE continues to grow rapidly. We now have over 5400 volunteers around the globe. We estimate that somewhere between 1000 and 2000 prosthetic hands have been created (not all of them go through our tracking system). Hands have been delivered in at least 40 different countries that we know of.

While several new designs have been introduced in recent months, R&D is an area we would like to see more focus on. Thanks to a recent $600,000 grant from Google.org, we hope to be able to expedite the creation of new and improved designs in the coming months.

9) Where do you all see 3D printing in this field and others going in the next 5-10 years?
It’s always hard to predict where technology like this will be in the future, but it’s safe to say that the printers will become faster, more reliable, and capable of printing in multiple materials simultaneously. This will open up exciting new possibilities for prosthetic devices and other 3D printing applications.

10) What do you think schools and colleges/universities can do to foster student experimentation with 3D printing, design, and for students?
The most important thing is to invest in having 3D printers available to students. Once the printers are available, it’s important to give the students meaningful projects to do with those printers. One great option for that is to have them create and assemble an e-NABLE hand for someone in their community. We have approximately 55 schools currently engaged in this work, and the students find it to be very rewarding.