A new gadget is giving the department’s rehabilitation technology specialists another way to create assistive technology devices for consumers.
The new LulzBot TAZ 5 3D printer allows rehab tech specialists to design and then print assistive devices customized to meet the individual needs of consumers.
3D printers use plastic to generate successive layers and create an object. Different grades of plastic are used to create items with different properties.
“A big part of rehab engineering is modifying products, and this allows us to customize products for individual consumers,” said Michael Papp, a rehabilitation technology specialist who works in the Homewood office.
Papp said he has wanted to purchase a 3D printer for several years, but the devices were too expensive.
Recent lower prices have made the purchase much more feasible.
“There’s a lot of work in the front end with the design,” said RTS Tim Driskell, who gained experience with the printers while earning his degree at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, “but it saves a lot of effort on the back-end because it allows us to replicate items easily.”
One of the biggest advantages, Driskell said, is the ability to scale items so that as children with special health care needs grow, their custom-made devices can literally grow with them.
Another plus: The ability to create and print pricey items for a reduced cost. One such item, a prosthetic hand, would’ve cost thousands of dollars to purchase but was printed on the TAZ 5 for a meager $15.