Nine-year-old Lou was born without a forearm. 3D printing enthusiast Denis Tur and a team of Airbus volunteers have joined forces with charity e-NABLE to produce a distinctive artificial arm for the young girl at ProtoSpace Toulouse.
Denis Tur is head of paintshop Manufacturing Engineering in Toulouse. He’s also a 3D printing ace and an accredited ‘maker’: an enthusiast authorised to produce 3D printed limbs. Denis was drawn to Lou’s case through his connection with charity e-NABLE. e-NABLE is linked to the French ‘maker’ network through its goal of producing free-of-charge artificial limbs for children.
When Lou and Denis first met in February, Lou had a clear idea of how her new forearm should look. A keen horse rider, she wanted her initials to feature prominently, enveloped in a horseshoe. Lou chose the colour scheme too. “The striking designs that children often choose for their artificial limbs helps them to stand out in a positive way. Who doesn’t want to look like a superhero?” Denis says. “It’s my hope that Lou’s new arm will help her embrace her difference and change the way others see her.”
To take the design from Lou’s imagination to reality, Denis tapped into Airbus’ additive layer manufacturing capability (ALM is another term for 3D printing). He approached head of ProtoSpace Toulouse Christophe Debard, who quickly agreed to take on the challenge.
Christophe issued a call to action via the Airbus internal communication channels and some 80 employees responded. Soon he had selected a team. Using an open-source model provided by e-NABLE, they set about printing and assembling each part of the arm. All in all, the printing process took about two days although prior to launching it the team had met several times for training.
Founded in 2015, e-NABLE France is keen to identify people with agenesis – whole or partially missing limbs – so that they too can benefit from 3D printing. The charity aims to produce between 70 and 100 non-medical prostheses each year: in France alone some 400 children are born with an arm or leg deformation every year.
Something that is really important to me is the human aspect of this project. We have a lot of capability in this space and I want to use it for something meaningful.
Christophe Debard, Head of Airbus ProtoSpace
The team joined Denis at ProtoSpace to hand over the fruit of their work to Lou on 13 March. Unsurprisingly it was an emotional occasion. The arm was presented in a special box decked with flashing lights. Lou’s eyes lit up too when she saw it. “It’s everything I wanted,” she said. “This will make many things easier for me. It’s like having a real hand!”
While the limb is not a formal medical prosthesis, it will enable Lou to catch a ball or grasp a bike handlebar. And it looks really cool. “Denis’ commitment to Lou and other children in her situation is inspirational. ProtoSpace is proud to have helped,” Christophe says. “Our volunteers learnt how to use new tech - ALM in this case - to show its ability to transform lives beyond the call of business. Their enthusiasm echoes a real generosity of spirit at Airbus.”