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Issue 03/2016

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Cover story By Michael

Cover story By Michael Thielen An idea that is changing the world (Photo courtesy Jen Owen) Info Videoclip: Michael Thielen with Jen Owen at ITR 2016 (Photo courtesy NatureWorks) Have you ever experienced a standing ovation at a technical conference? I certainly never had – at least, not until recently. And that’s a story I now feel a need to share with you. At this year’s ITR event, organized by NatureWorks at the end of March in Orlando (see a comprehensive conference report on p 12), the second day of the conference was opened by keynote speaker Jen Owen, with a presentation on a very special project she and her husband had more or less accidentally stumbled into. So special, in fact, that she was willing to get up on stage and talk about it, even though, as she put it: “Public speaking is like my worst fear, so, I just want to put that out there, and I’m being brave today.” And with that, she launched into a story that was riveting, inspiring, heart-warming and funny, all at the same time. “I come from a home where quite often something is set on fire, launched through the air or turned into a fruit-murdering device,” she deadpanned. “If you don’t believe me, I’m going to show you what I mean.” And for readers who need convincing, right now would be a good time to check out this YouTube clip (see link on this page). Jen and Ivan Owen’s adventure started in 2011, when Ivan made himself a giant functional mechanical hand, that worked using rings and strings, to go with his costume for a Steam Punk convention. Just for fun, Ivan posted the video on YouTube – where it was seen by a carpenter in South Africa, who reached out to him with an unusual question. “Richard had lost all the fingers of his dominant hand in a woodworking accident,” Jen explained. And since a conventional prosthesis – even just for one finger – was way too expensive, he wanted to ask Ivan if he could help. And Ivan agreed. “Of course he agreed!” Jen added. The two, Ivan and Richard, spent the next year collaborating via e-mail and Skype over 10,000 miles and through different time zones. Ivan did some research and found a prosthetic hand that had been carved from whalebones in 1845 by an Australian dentist for a man who had lost his hand in a cannon accident. Using cables and pulleys, this hand worked in the same way as the one Ivan had created for himself. Inspired by the design, the first prototype of a one finger prosthesis for Richard was cobbled together from paper towel tubes, PVC-pipe, leather, rivets and the like. Almost a year after the start, Ivan was able to fly over to South Africa (somebody had donated frequent flyer miles), so that, together with Richard, the prosthesis, could be finetuned. Meanwhile, as Jen had been broadcasting the progress of the project all over the internet, it wasn’t long before a mother – also from South Africa – contacted the Owens, asking whether it would be possible to make a full set of fingers for her young son, Liam. Liam had been born with one hand 14 bioplastics MAGAZINE [03/16] Vol. 11

Cover story on which all the fingers were missing. “Of course” Ivan agreed and, together with Richard the carpenter, created a prototype hand for Liam. It worked, but it was “metal, clunky and ugly”, as Jen described it. They nicknamed it the “Frankenhand”. Yet soon, a far more serious realization dawned: children grow, and therefore Liam would quickly outgrow the hand. How to solve this problem? To make a much longer story short, they decided to try 3D-printing. With the help of two 3D-printers donated by MakerBot, Ivan taught himself how to code and design. They created the first PLA plastic hand, which Richard the carpenter then 3D-printed for Liam. And soon they realized, that if there was one child like Liam – there must be thousands in the world… . Now, instead of patenting the design – he felt it was too big to keep for himself – Ivan put the files online, open source, in the public domain, so that anyone, anywhere could print a hand for somebody who needed one. And from there, the project just took off. A Google+ group and an online map was created on which people willing to volunteer the use of their printer could show their location, so that people who needed hands would know who they could turn to. Thus the enable-the-future community was born. The group of volunteers quickly grew to more than 8,000 worldwide today and more than 2,000 hands have since been printed and distributed to children around the globe. The hands, made from PLA, can be scaled to fit any child’s size. The parts snap together easily. If a finger breaks, a new one can be printed to fit the hand. Then, in the course of the project, “they started getting creative”, said Jen. “There are LED light fingertips, there are laser pointers to terrify the cat, superhero hands, Star Wars hands – you name it, it’s out there,” said Jen. “The superhero hands are probably the most popular.” “These designs are basic hands. They have just a basic grasping motion. They’re nowhere near as robust as a traditional prosthetic, but for children who were born with no fingers and a palm, there was nothing available for them in the general prosthetic world. And these can be made for USD 30 to 50, versus USD 3,000 to 5,000 traditional prosthetics would cost their families.” Plus, they would need a new size every 6 to 12 months. As time has gone by, families have learned to make (and repair) hands for their own kids. Children have started to make hands for other children. Schools, boy scout and girl scout troops have launched projects to make hands and ship them to clinics along the Syrian border and to Africa. Corporal Coles’ whalebone hand (Photo courtesy Royal Adelaide Hospital) “The most beautiful thing about this project is …. that people are coming together from all over the world, putting their political, religious, personal, cultural differences aside, to create a positive change in the world.” “Imagine a world where instead of using new technology destroying each other people took up the idea of the enable-community and started using this technology to give each other a helping hand. That’s who we are, and we are enabling the future.” After the well-earned standing ovation from the audience, NatureWorks’ CEO Marc Verbruggen announced that the company would donate 10,000 lbs. of Ingeo filament to the cause. “It’s a global initiative, so we have to figure out how we’re going to get the filament to the right people,” he said. “I can only applaud what you have done,” he added. And, speaking from the heart, I can only say: as can we all. Well done, Jen! Magnetic for Plastics • International Trade in Raw Materials, Machinery & Products Free of Charge. • Daily News from the Industrial Sector and the Plastics Markets. • Current Market Prices for Plastics. • Buyer’s Guide for Plastics & Additives, Machinery & Equipment, Subcontractors and Services. • Job Market for Specialists and Executive Staff in the Plastics Industry. Up-to-date • Fast • Professional bioplastics MAGAZINE [03/16] Vol. 11 15

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