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FabLab to build prosthetic arm for professor’s son

Adam Williams creates 3D printed hand

By Jamil Oakford

The Shorthorn senior staff

Whether it’s rock climbing, washing dishes or riding a bike, Garrett Clark can do it all, and he’s about to get a little help from the UTA FabLab.

The FabLab partnered with a nonprofit organization to help communication associate professor Andrew Clark’s 8-year-old son, who has lived his whole life without a right forearm.

“He copes well the way that he is,” Andrew Clark said. “Maybe it’ll open up some new opportunities that he wouldn’t normally have had.”

With the FabLab’s technology and an innovative student, Garrett will have the chance to own a prosthetic arm.

FabLab director Katie Musick Peery said this project was something they were interested in after coming across e-Nable, making prosthetics more accessible and affordable using 3-D printing.

“We were wondering what we could do to promote its use, since we have 3-D printers here,” she said.

Andrew Clark said his son was excited about the possibility of getting a prosthetic.

“Initially, he was asking me every week, ‘When’s it going to be ready?’” Andrew Clark said.

When the FabLab team found Garrett Clark through his father, they began looking at the molds for the prosthetic design e-Nable had.

That’s when they found their first problem.

“When we printed out that thing, we saw several aspects of the design that could have easily been improved,” FabLab technician Morgan Chivers said.

The team noticed that many of the designs e-Nable had for prosthetic arms were for people older than Garrett Clark. Another problem was with the moving fingers of the prosthetic. Most of the designs were made for people with wrists, but the arm that he needs would go up to his elbow.

What slowed the FabLab down even more was a technological advance.

Shortly after meeting with Andrew Clark, the model of the hand that his son would need was taken offline, Musick Peery said.

E-Nable began updating the design after people reported chafing with the prosthetic. This put development on Garrett Clark’s arm on hold. Another factor was the FabLab’s space in the Central Library began to grow and evolve.

With time passing and Garrett Clark getting older, Andrew Clark said his son was still excited, but noticeably different.

As the FabLab pivoted back to the project, Chivers came across kinesiology senior Adam Williams at the Annual Celebration of Excellence by Students symposium. His poster dealt with how to design a prosthetic using 3-D printing, something that instantly drew Chivers’ attention.

“Because Adam [Williams] is so good at knowing both modeling and the body, it’s a perfect fit,” Chivers said.

From there, Williams began to work on a custom model using an e-Nable model as a base.

Williams said this is a chance for him to explore how to provide affordable prosthetics and also develop the technology that will reflect human activity.

“No prosthetic exists today that can mimic the way a human moves,” Williams said. “My end goal is to make something that mimics human motion and can be used comfortably.”

As technology moves forward, the sky’s the limit with 3-D printing, he said.

When the lab finishes this project and Garrett Clark receives his prosthetic arm, Musick Peery said she hopes this could be something that reaches the surrounding UTA community.

“This technology can make a real difference in the world,” she said. “They as students in their current positions and age can use this technology to make a real difference.”

Chivers said he hopes people can see more potential for the equipment offered at the FabLab and the impact that technology can have on people’s lives.

“It’s not just something that sits there and looks cool, it’s also something that you can make a useful thing that is a radical change in quality of life,” Chivers said.

Garrett Clark is still waiting, but he recently picked out the colors for his prosthetic arm.

“Orange and green,” Andrew Clark said. “I have no idea why he picked out that color combination, but it looks cool.”