Just as 3D printing is used by groups like Makers Making Change to empower individuals, the technology also helps many small businesses get off the ground. “As a small startup, time and money are in short supply and 3D printing saves a lot of each because we can prototype and refine our ideas right at the shop, rather than having to spend thousands of dollars and a lot of time to have each prototype made at a machine shop,” says Stefan Henry, 29, co-founder and CEO of Level The Curve, a small, Manhattan-based company that makes ADLs.
The company was co-founded in April 2017 by three close friends—Henry, Eli Ramos, and Khan Sakeeb—two of whom, Henry and Eli, are quads. “A few years back, Eli and Kahn and I said, ‘Let’s start a company that makes stuff to help people with disabilities get through life more easily,’” says Henry.
They design their products using two complex and expensive CAD programs, SolidWorks and Rhino, and print them on a FormBot 3D printer, which retails for around $900.
Their first product is the Eating Tool, a device that looks a little bit like two-holed brass knuckles that holds a utensil. It’s intended to make it easier for people with limited finger function to get food from the plate to their mouth and retails online for $20. “Orders are coming in,” says Henry. “It’s slow, but building momentum, and we have more products in the beta test stage.”
PTW Design & Development has also benefitted from the ease and affordability of 3D printing. The assistive technology and ergonomic design company launched three years ago in Berkeley, California, by the father-and-son team of Philip and Richard Weiss. Philip, 32, is an electrical engineering/computer science graduate who has limited dexterity because of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and his dad, Richard, is a scientist. They used 3D printing to make prototypes of their first two products, the AireLink and AireTouch, which enable switch activation and interfacing with a smartphone or computer touchscreen for people with limited dexterity. Both products sell for around $50. “We got as close as possible to the final design before committing to the cost of having molds cut,” explains Philip. “This was much faster and less expensive than sending drawings to a machine shop or making expensive injection molds.”
The company also has prototypes for a hand brace for keyboard operation. “It is good we were able to save money with 3D prototyping because we thought when we had a prototype, we were 50 percent of the way to market. It is more like 1 percent of the way,” says Philip.
Still, Philip and Richard are enthusiastic and currently beta-testing the AireLink and AireTouch. They are looking for beta testers with limited dexterity who are interested in testing a light touch switch or need to access their smartphone with a switch.
Image credit: Photo by Author