U.P. 3D printer helps children in Nicaragua

HOUGHTON — A 3D printer built at Michigan Tech will be used to help children in one Central American country.

British Columbia native Eric Friesen is helping kids in Nicaragua with the aid of Michigan Tech. Friesen is a retired concrete finisher by trade and a self-described “citizen off the streets”. He was in Nicaragua when he noticed kids in that country did not have access to certain assistive devices.

Friesen said, “Nicaragua has a crying need for many things and you see some kids on the street that could use a hand and it just seemed like a logical thing to follow.”

The hands are these devices that could cost thousands of dollars but with a 3-D Printer, they can be made for as little as $10. Enabling The Future is global network of volunteers who use 3-D printers to make prosthetic hands available for those in underserved parts of the world.

Michigan Tech Associate Professor Doctor Joshua Pearce responded to a letter sent by Friesen and offered to help.

Pearce said, “He has one of the first 3-D printers in Nicaragua and they were having a really hard time getting a filament. So, we make these devices called Recyclebots that turn waste plastic into filament and that’s a solution for being able to provide 3-D printing filament in places in the developing world where it’s simply not commercially available.”

First-year Materials Science and Engineering Student Jill Poliskey is working on the research of materials that will be available for use in Nicaragua. Friesen’s 3-D printer will be able to self-replicate so it will be just the first to start making the hands available to Nicaraguan children.

Friesen said, “Dr. Pearce has already made one, so that is for a specific child and we’ll be doing that and we’ve got several other clients waiting and as we get up and running, we’ll spread the word and have more people involved, too.”

Funding for the project was provided through the Portage Health Foundation.