Kris Uebelhardt with his 3D printer and the first prosthetic hand he printed on it. The hand can make simple grasping motions and hold objects. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance)

VIDEO: Printing prosthetics is Langley man’s passion

Kris Uebelhardt will run 50km to raise cash for his project to make and give away prosthetic hands.

Langley’s Kris Uebelhardt has two lofty, connected goals: to run a 50 km ultramarathon, and to use that run to raise money to build 50 prosthetic hands.

Uebelhardt is the founder of the Vancouver chapter of e-NABLE, an international movement that helps people create 3D printed prosthetics.

After setting up his own 3D printer and teaching himself how to use it, Uebelhardt has already printed and assembled his first hand, a “Raptor Reloaded” model, intended for a child with missing fingers.

Uebelhardt has been keeping an eye on the 3D printing movement for the past few years, and he was fascinated with its possibilities.

But he didn’t want to just get a kit and start printing out toys or novelty items.

“If I was going to learn how to do this, I wanted to put the knowledge towards something useful,” Uebelhardt said.

His recent university studies have included prerequisites for rehabilitative medicine.

Then he found the e-NABLE website.

“As soon as I saw that, I knew it was something I had to do,” Uebelhardt said.

The e-NABLE project began in 2011 when Ivan Owen built a prop mechanical hand for a steampunk costume.

A video of the project posted on YouTube led to an unusual request – one viewer was a carpenter who had lost his fingers in a woodworking accident. Could Owen build him a real prosthetic?

They worked on numerous prototypes, and that collaboration connected Owen with Liam, then a five-year-old boy in South Africa, born without fingers on one hand.

The next version of the project was 3-D printed, as Owen realized Ivan would go through multiple prosthetic hands quickly as he grew.

Owen posted his original designs as without patenting them, as open source designs on Thingiverse, a popular site for sharing 3-D printed projects.

Since then, numerous doctors, engineers, hobbyists, and tinkerers have modified, upgraded, and customized the designs. Hundreds of volunteers, ranging from 3-D printer enthusiasts to Scouts, make hands for people in their communities or around the world.

Uebelhardt foundedt he Vancouver chapter of e-NABLE.

There are a number of advantages to 3D printing prosthetics, including cost.

If Uebelhardt can raise $2,500 from his upcoming marathon run, he’ll be able to print 50 hands.

Cheap hands mean prosthetics can be made more accessible to people in developing nations. They can also be quickly replaced if damaged or outgrown – major considerations for children.

Because they are printed from plastic, some makers create them in bright colours, or even make superhero-themed hands and arms for kids.

Making the hands cool and interesting can help with the self esteem of kids who feel different because of a disability, Uebelhardt hopes.

He wants to distribute his hands around B.C. first, but may send them overseas as well.

Uebelhardt will do his run – in the Whistler Alpine Meadows 50 – on Sept. 23. He hopes to raise the $2,500 by then. If he hits the goal, he’ll record a video of the run and make it available for his supporters.

To see his crowdsourcing site or donate, click HERE.