SELFMADE: Making your own 3D printed assistive devices
SELFMADE: Making your own 3D printed assistive devices
The small finger attachment to hold book pages in place takes about an hour, the drinking cup with handles takes up to seven hours – 3D printing takes a little patience. However, in exchange, people with and without disabilities can develop and print customized small-scale assistive devices for everyday use at the SELFMADE MakerSpace in Dortmund, Germany.
Professor Ingo Bosse (first from left) with his team: Dr. Bastian Pelka, Leevke Wilkens, Britta Vogelsang, Henrike Struck.
In this interview with REHACARE.com, project manager Professor Ingo Bosse shares his enthusiasm for 3D printing and its possibilities and explains why self-determination plays a major role at SELFMADE.
Professor Bosse, what is the objective of SELFMADE?
Prof. Ingo Bosse: Our MakerSpace is a place where people with and without disabilities meet and create products together that are based on digital technologies. We want to discover what 3D printing is able to accomplish in the field of assistive devices. We also pursue a strategy for social innovation. This setting includes people with disabilities as well as commercial enterprises like small and medium-sized orthopedic specialists and representatives from the "Behindertenpolitisches Netzwerk" (English: Disability Network) such as the Inclusion Advisory Committee of the City of Dortmund ("Inklusionsbeirat der Stadt Dortmund"). We want to bring the so-called maker scene and other stakeholders together with the goal to grow stronger in a sustainable way. In addition, we want to develop methods that also enable people with more severe physical disabilities to take advantage of this printing technology. Comprehensive accessibility is at the very heart of this endeavor.
In what way does self-determination play an important role in the SELFMADE setting?
Bosse: It is very important to us that the people who approach us make their own decisions and take as many steps on their own as possible in the development process of the desired product. Needless to say, things always depend on the person’s individual skills. It determines whether people with physical disabilities and/or motor impairments need some assistance or are able to independently participate in this process. Even if you merely request a different color for your desired product, it is already an expression of self-determination.
What are some of the ways to create a desired printed product at SELFMADE?
Bosse: We don’t consider ourselves a service provider. In other words, you can’t call us, order a specific product that we subsequently print and send to you. Our goal is to create real life and genuine encounters. People are meant to familiarize themselves on-site with the technologies offered by the maker culture and expand their skill set.
Visitors of the MakerSpace have different options to independently obtain the desired assistive device:
They review our field-tested products on display, take the SD memory card of the respective product and insert it into the printer. In doing so, they have selected the product on their own and are able to monitor and watch the printing process.
One of the most popular products is the SELFMADE cup with handle. It can be further adapted to different needs - a second handle is also possible. The printing of the cup takes up to seven hours.
Or let’s say someone selects our adapted cup but decides that the handle is not ideal due to his/her personal circumstances. This person takes the SD memory card to the computer and we modify the handle based on the respective wishes. The person can then initiate the printing process by themselves.
Sometimes we also have people who have a product in mind that is not yet available as such in our files. That’s when we check with international databases like thingiverse, for example, to see whether somebody has already implemented this idea and whether thingiverse has an available data file. If that’s the case, we transfer it to our SD memory card and are able to subsequently print the product.
Here is yet another option: if a person has an entirely new idea and fairly good computer skills, we teach him/her to use the program and provide assistance with the digital product design process if needed. Once the product has been created on the computer, it can be printed.
It is important to us that all steps are taken independently whenever possible –depending on the person’s skills, they can do this alone or with some assistance.
What kinds of assistive devices and tools have already been created as part of the SELFMADE project?
Bosse: Our products primarily focus on facilitating participation in working and everyday life and leisure time, though we are always open to great ideas. At this point, there are 20 products that have been tried and tested in everyday use. They include extenders for faucets for instance (perfect for wheelchair users when sinks are not wheelchair accessible), a cell phone holder for wheelchairs, can openers or our popular drinking cup with handles for vending machines. We also have a small ball that can be placed on a power wheelchair joystick to facilitate better handling and control.
We also printed a thickened case to adapt a young gamer’s game controller. What’s more, we are currently designing a guitar neck for a young man, so he can play guitar with a guitar pick in the future. He and his parents have co-designed some of the construction steps on their own on the computer. However, since this is quite an intricate design, we will soon meet with the family and a mechanical engineer to come up with the ideal solution.
You and SELFMADE also took part in the HelpCamps BarCamp last December. To what extent are these types of events important for this project?
Bosse: The maker scene primarily promotes communication, openness, candor and technical expertise. This is what makes these types of events so exciting. It is a pool of ideas. There is an abundance of ideas if you try things out together or compare notes and see what might be possible. Last year’s REHACARE was a testament to the openness of the maker scene when it comes to collaborations, teamwork, and networking. Various products were showcased in one joint booth. At the end of the day, everybody is excited to spur success and share their ideas with others.
The range of printable products is diverse: In addition to thickening for a game controller (photo), there are also ideas from blind users for printing reliefs or art objects. For reasons of time, however, this could not be implemented at the moment.
And this generally happens at a non-commercial level.
Bosse: Yes, part of the philosophy is that all product files are open source and freely available online. Our MakerSpace products are thus also available free of charge because the production costs are very low. Even though we initially had to purchase three printers, the filament or synthetic material we melt and process is very efficient. We ran a calculation as an example: our SELFMADE drinking cup costs 0.18 cent to produce!
What’s next for SELFMADE?
Bosse: We are currently collaborating with students pursuing a Bachelor of Rehabilitation Sciences at the Technical University of Dortmund. For two semesters, a group of twelve students will exclusively focus on our topic as part of their project-based learning curriculum. They accompany our project and specifically develop workshop concepts for children and adolescents and will also implement these in our MakerSpace. The students develop everything independently but also have access to our networks of course. The first workshops for children and adolescents are expected to launch in February or March at the latest.
Apart from that, the project is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, BMBF) until August 2018. That’s why we will soon decide whether and where we might secure a follow-up project.
Having said that, the MakerSpace at the Dortmunder Büro für Unterstützte Kommunikation der AWO (English: AWO Office for Facilitated Communication) will continue to be available as such, including all of the equipment. The on-site staff members are already quite skilled with the printers and would be able to run the MakerSpace without our project continuation. However, without subsidies, they might have to charge a small token amount for the printed products. That being said, we are quite confident that we will secure continued funding for this project.