How Team UnLimbited Began - Drew's 6th Recipient - Stephen Davies

This article is about my 6th build for Stephen and the journey we have been on since being matched to build a device for him.

It all started one night I was browsing through the google+ community and I spotted a post by a new member, Stephen Davies.  Stephen posted a picture of what looked like a chemistry set tube holder mounted on a carbon fiber cuff; I was shocked and disgusted to see that that is what the UK NHS has provided him with in 2009.

I know there is allot of misinformation about the NHS which is a fantastic free and world class health system, but based on this they had really let him down. 

Listening to Stephen in the comments on the devastating affect this device had on his moral meant I had to help him, I had to show him what was possible; and so we were matched.

What struck me about Stephens post is the weekend prior to this I had been at the Science Museum in London with my wife and 2 children and found a hand prosthetic as issued to service men from the 1st world war; for its time its form was good even if its mechanics were limited and simple.

Once matched Stephen and myself wasted no time in getting on with his build. Unlike my previous builds where communication was via email, myself and Steve used google hangout to communicate and were able to discuss his build, his expectations etc. Stephen has very little residual palm thus we were unsure if a wrist powered device would work; we both however agreed it would be worth trying as we could always build an elbow powered extension if needed.

Stephen sent me a picture of how his arm would fit in his NHS device, and how it actually prevented any wrist movement and immobilized it completely.

Working with an adult recipient is slightly different than a child, for a start verifying measurements was allot easier, also as Stephen is an engineer who does 3D modeling / photogrammetry as part of his profession he understood what was needed. The “standard” photograph method used by e-NABLE was used, by using reference pictures and the Tracker open source software; more information on this method is here.

The final measurements all added up with only slight modification.

Stephen worked with me on the colour scheme and Stephen expressed how he really wanted to get involved; he is able to model in 3D and with an engineering background in many ways more skilled than me !

Stephen settled on the following colour scheme.

As per all my builds what I do is first print off some test parts based on the measurements determined from the photo’s and send them to the recipient, this is to verify the sizing and also to give the recipient a better understanding of what they will receive. During this time I am normally also ordering the correct colour filament as per the recipients design. Also because I know the exact size of the test parts, the photos from this with the recipient can allow me to fine tune the sizing. I believe to get the most use from a device you need a good fit, which also means not relying on to much padding. 

After Stephen received his test part we were able to determine and fine tune the sizing accordingly, we were also able to confirm that despite his small residual palm a standard hand would work ! Stephen proposed a re-design of the palm area that might help him, he modeled this and provided it to me to print; I was more than happy to oblige, how cool is this – a recipient re-designing the parts to their own fit !

During Stephens build he had been discussing getting his own printer to help other people and getting involved in e-nable, his employers were so blown away with e-NABLE, what they are doing and could see how Stephen could help offered him £1000 for his own printer and setup; his company wanted to present him with this cheque in a weeks time and he wanted to have the device ready for then!

So with the challenge set I began building his final device and shipped it to him express to get there in time, I did have to sacrifice his blue gauntlet for a red one as I ran out of blue filament and had no time to order more, Stephen didn’t seem to mind to much.

Stephen got his device in time and as we can see from the picture below even with his small residual palm he was able to operate it effectively! His employer true to their word, and to Stephens delight also presented him with his £1000 donation to start helping as well.

Now normally for most recipients that is where there story stops, but with Stephen this was just the beginning.

We spent a few hangouts working out his shopping list for his printer and setup he would need to get going on his own e-nable build rig. I helped him with printer configuration settings, lots of top tips that had taken me some weeks to master as I learned the black art of 3D printing! Within a very short space and time, Stephen was up and running and even built himself a 2nd hand to a different colour scheme and also started looking at further modifications. 

As we discussed each element of the hand, the design, the functionality, the strengths and weaknesses we developed several new ideas all of which have been shared with e-nable; such as

  • Plasti-dip fingers instead of tipi grips – cheaper, slightly less effective, will fit any size, look more natural. I will now use this on all my devices and Stephens own road test has shown this to be very durable.
  • Steel cable and crimps instead of string and knots – still being tested by myself and now one of my recipients.
  • Revolution in gauntlet development when Stephen came up with the simple solution of using 2 velcro straps instead of 1 wide strip of velcro.
  • Reverse Dovetail thermo form gauntlet that allows a more natural form and different custom tension boxes to be used – Steve has delivered one to a recipient and I will shortly be delivering one.
  •  RIT arm using a custom designed Phoenix hand adaptor that we developed and also used a carbon fiber forearm (as used on a remote controlled helicopter) for strength and weight.

These are just a few of the ideas we are working on, myself and Stephen have a few hangout sessions a week and use Trello to track our ideas; we are also currently moving our idea's over to Autodesk Fusion 360 to make sharing and developing our ideas easier for the rest of the e-nable community.

Stephen has now delivered 2 devices to recipients in the UK and his summary videos with the recipients capture the essence of e-nable and what it is like to help someone.

So whats next from Stephen and myself; well I would love to tell you, but that would spoil the surprise. What I can say is we have 2 main R&D device projects on the go at the moment BOTH of which are really exciting and I hope they will be well received by the e-nable community and our recipients. Our trello board also has many other idea’s and snippets of items we want to look at but for one reason or another we have not progressed yet.

Unfortunately I can not say currently what the lead time on these projects will be, both myself and Stephen need to balance our work, family life and of course building for other recipients while trying to find the time for R&D (there simply is not enough hours in the day)

For me working with Stephen and having someone to bounce idea’s off, who is also a recipient and a really gifted and pragmatic engineer is just amazing. The fact I have been able to help him and inspire him to help others I still find an amazing achievement every day.

When I got started in e-nable I was hoping to help someone, after 7 months I have helped / given hope to / inspired 7 other people in the UK. I hope I can continue to help and inspire more as I continue on this amazing journey.