What started as a joke between two neighbors has turned in to an amazing learning experience for a recent high school graduate and something special for a man who was missing a finger.
The man with the missing digit is Jeff Bishop and his neighbor Drake Gentry, a 2016 graduate of Stone Memorial High school were discussing Drakes new 3D printer and Jeff said he joked asking if it could make him a finger to replace the one he lost. Jeff said when he first mentioned his thought he really only meant something that would look like a finger, not anything complicated or movable.
Left to right: SMHS engineering teacher Tommy Tatum, Jeff Bishop wearing his new finger
and Drake Gentry, recent SMHS graduate who made the prosthetic for Bishop.
But this “joke” got young Drake to thinking, and he headed out on the internet to see what he could find that might help his neighbor out. Drake graduated high school this past spring with a concentration in the SMHS Engineering program taught by teacher Tommy Tatum and his father has a machine shop so he had the background to do something special.
The business end of a 3D printer
And it didn't take long for Drake to find several possible designs on a website called thingiverse.com, where people share things they have designed for 3D printers that can be downloaded and used or adapted by others. After checking out these designs, he used a micrometer to measure what was left of Jeff's finger and fed the data into the computer to adjust the design of the finger to fit him. As Drake began to make the pieces from the design, he realized that he really needed a more advanced 3D printer to get the job done right.
Prototype prosthetic finger created using a 3D printer
And Drake knew who to contact, his SMHS engineering teacher Tommy Tatum as his classroom has several 3D printers that are used in teaching engineering. The school's printers use a more durable type of plastic that was really needed for the project. After getting permission from the principal, the group met on a Sunday to work more on the project together.
Mr. Tatum, left, and Drake Gentry right, watch the 3D printer work making parts
As the initial prototype took shape, Jeff was thrilled because the prosthetic finger was designed to be controlled and moved. Jeff made his own adaptation after a day or so of use by gluing a piece of rubber to the tip to give him some grip.
Jeff Bishop shows off the finger's movement
Jeff said he offered to pay Mr. Tatum for the material used to make the prosthetic but was told the amount of plastic filament used was under 15 cents. The prosthetic is made up of about 10 separate pieces and according to Drake each piece takes about 10 to 15 minutes to be created in the printer and the whole process takes a little under about 3 hours to make.
Jeff Bishop watches the 3D printer make parts for the 2.0 version of his prosthetic finger
Other changes that need to be made in the original prototype made for Jeff included the length and some other suggestions made by Jeff as he has worn it almost constantly since he received it. “After only a few days, now it feels odd without it!” said Jeff.
Once the prosthetic has been through some additional design changes and further testing, the code that the plastic 3D printer uses can then be fed into machining equipment and a final version is planed to be made out of aluminum at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology.
Drake will be starting at TCAT soon where he plans to study welding and other design programs.
We will update this story in the future.