Mechanical engineering students design a 3D printed prosthetic arm to benefit a disabled person

Scott Salling, a mechanical engineering student from Cal State Fullerton, had a promising career in the United States Navy. But at 27, his service was unexpectedly cut short after he was diagnosed with cancer.

After six surgeries and five rounds of chemotherapy to treat three types of abdominal cancer, he was forced out of the military after serving 10 years – and wondered what was next for him.

During his cancer treatment at Naval Medical Center in San Diego and his participation in Project Wounded Warrior, Salling encountered other service members struggling with physical injuries, including the loss of arms and legs. He was moved by their determination and desire to achieve better functionality to live their best life.

“I felt hopeless because there was nothing I could do to help,” he said. “But then I started talking to amputees and noticed little adjustments that could improve their prostheses. That’s when I knew I wanted to be an engineer.

Salling has found a new goal: to earn an engineering degree and pursue a career developing affordable, life-changing prosthetics to replace a lost limb.

“Helping others and doing things for the greater good is what I loved most about what I did in the military. I know I can do it again,” Salling said. “Prosthetic technology is amazing; the problem is that it is often unobtainable due to cost. I am determined to change that.

Real-world lessons on 3D printing

Fast forward to the spring semester course Salling was enrolled in: Sagil James’ upper division course, “Additive Manufacturing Engineering,” which provides insight and trends in additive manufacturing processes.

The newly created course includes a project using 3D printing – known as additive manufacturing, which is the process of creating physical objects from 3D digital model data and depositing materials layer by layer – on a real world app.

Enter Ruth Cho, community life advocate at the Dayle McIntosh Center in Anaheim, who approached James, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, after a random internet search last fall. His research expertise includes innovative and advanced manufacturing technologies and processes, as well as computer-aided design.

Cho asked James for help on behalf of a colleague who needed a new prosthesis for his right arm.

“After exchanging messages, participating in Zoom meetings and experiencing the compassion, drive and creativity of Dr. James and his students, we have found this wonderful opportunity to raise awareness about disabilities and accessibility – and to focus about creative ways to achieve independence,” Cho said.

Richard “Rich” Skerbitz poses with Susan Barua, Dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science, Sagil James, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and students from the Additive Manufacturing Engineering course.

James turned to his class of 33 students, including Salling, for the challenge of using 3D printing to create a working prosthetic arm for Richard “Rich” Skerbitz, who was born without legs or arms.

“The goal of this project is to explore the possibilities of using 3D scanning concepts, universal design principles, and 3D printing technologies to redesign and fabricate affordable, personalized prosthetics for the arm and hand” , said James.

Salling and graduate student Ram Saroop, who lead the project, met with Skerbitz to assess his personal needs and customize a prosthetic arm to augment a 20-year-old assistive device he uses to drive.

3D Prosthetic Fishing Rod Holder
Students Joseph Reza, Josephine Overbeek, Ryuko Geronimo, Ivan Morales, and Jesus Gama created this prototype of a fishing rod module on a 3D printer that can be used with the prosthetic arm.

The students’ goal for the project is to design and manufacture a prosthetic arm for Skerbitz that has multifunctional and interchangeable modules that he can use for different tasks and activities.

The class was divided into seven groups, in which each team focused on a specialized task for the prosthetic arm and hand, such as handling kitchen utensils, using a fishing rod, operating a vacuum cleaner or playing the game. guitar. Using computer-aided design software, they created modules for each task, then made small-scale prototypes on a 3D printer.

“Modern technologies, such as 3D printing and 3D scanning, help reduce manufacturing steps,” James explained. “This project is a demonstration of the real capabilities of 3D printing technologies and Universal Design, which is an innovative method for designing accessible and inclusive solutions for a range of users.”

Scott Salling
Mechanical Engineering senior Scott Salling discusses the prosthetic arm project with his classmates.

Salling and Saroop, who plan to graduate next year, and a new team of students, will continue the project over the summer and fall semesters to develop the final version of their 3D-printed prosthetic arm. and their modules for Skerbitz.

Salling, 37, married with three young children, works in the aerospace industry and plans to become a patent attorney to make prosthetics more accessible.

“My desire is to give Rich a new chapter of opportunity,” he said. “I hope this project will institute a future line of rapid-access, modular assistive devices that Rich can use to enhance his daily life, while encouraging the development of new creative, cost-effective, and feasible prosthetic solutions.”

Using 3D printing technology to meet an individual’s needs

Skerbitz, community transition coordinator at the Dayle McIntosh Center, visited the class in May to listen to student presentations on the progress of their project. He also shared his enthusiasm and appreciation for their work in designing a prosthesis that meets an individual’s needs.

“I’m impressed with the passion and empathy of this class to not only build something, but to make that personal connection,” he said.

Not only was he happy with the prototypes, but Skerbitz explained how he hopes working with the class will change students’ perspectives on people with disabilities and the devices engineers can design to benefit those people.

“I hope this project will help break down the attitudinal barriers and stigmas that exist against people with disabilities, in which there is a tendency to see a person with a disability as someone who cannot be independent, or that they have less valuable than anyone else,” said Skerbitz, 49, who said he lives independently, drives a car and loves to fish.

Richard “Rich” Skerbitz shares with the class how he and other people with disabilities are “people with ability”.

“A person in a wheelchair is not confined to a wheelchair,” he added. “Disabled people are individuals with abilities.”

Ram Saroop
Ram Saroop

Saroop, an international student from Pakistan, said working with Skerbitz has made him more aware of how to deal with people with disabilities and foster a culture of mutual respect.

“This project has increased my knowledge of the challenges faced by people in need of an artificial device, such as a prosthetic arm or hand, how they overcome obstacles – and the importance of how engineers can create a better future for people with disabilities.”