When Cal State Fullerton students’ new additive manufacturing engineering course was presented with the real task of creating a prosthesis that could improve the quality of life for a disabled man, they were excited for the challenge.
Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, is the process of creating an object from computer-aided design.
In this case, the students were creating a prosthetic arm for Rich Skerbitz, a 49-year-old man from Orange County who was born without legs or a right arm.
The spring semester project was unique in more ways than one.
For starters, the 33 students in the class wouldn’t rely on a book for instructions, said Sagil James, the class instructor.
Instead, they would glean information from a human being.
“Unlike manual development, when projects are well defined in the real world, the problem is not well defined,” James said. “In this particular project, everything was open.”
As surprising as it may seem, Skerbitz, who works at the Dale McIntosh Center, an Anaheim nonprofit that provides a variety of services and advocates for the rights of people with disabilities, is already quite independent and adept at participating in a variety activities with one arm. .
A Minnesota native, Skerbitz said that in his early teens his father strongly encouraged him to find ways to do things on his own.
“Throughout my life, I had to be like an engineer, to go through different life situations,” Skerbitz said. “I had to find my own solutions.”
His favorite hobbies are fishing and bass guitar, and he does both without a prosthesis, using only his left arm.
Although he uses a wheelchair, Skerbitz gets around just fine without it.
The only activity Skerbitz needs a prosthetic arm for is driving.
In fact, Skerbitz said her prosthetic right arm can be cumbersome and often gets in the way.
So what Skerbitz enjoyed most about his interactions with Sagil’s class was the back and forth communication between him and the students.
The students didn’t just assume he needed a right arm without discussion, which is sometimes the case when professionals create prosthetics for amputees, Skerbitz said.
The class took the time to chat with Skerbitz to find out exactly what specific tasks and activities would be easier with a prosthesis.
“I know my body best,” he said. “I know my skills. I know my abilities. I know my desires. Instead of looking at me and saying “Oh, you need an arm” (and then) putting an arm on me that would get in the way, they had this idea and they said, “He doesn’t want an arm that’s all. He wants something he can use that can help him do certain things.
The class came up with the idea of creating a prosthetic arm that would attach to his shoulder, then make interchangeable attachments to use for specific activities.
“It’s the best solution,” Skerbitz said. “The frame would go under my shoulder. It won’t be a big, heavy protrusion from my body.
The students divided into groups, with each group designing a prop for a specific task.
Groups have designed separate prototypes for holding a fishing rod, playing a guitar, opening jars, operating a vacuum cleaner, and holding a bow and arrow.
They created 3D print designs for each attachment, which makes it easy to reproduce.
Graduate student Ram Saroop, who led the project with student Scott Salling, said interactions between the class and Skerbitz were “like talking to a good friend you’ve known since you were 10 years old.” .
“It was really phenomenal,” said Saroop. “I can’t describe the emotion. I never thought I would work on something like this.
Since only the prototypes were designed at the end of the spring semester, Skerbitz hasn’t had a chance to use the new prosthetics in his daily life yet, but he expects to have them in the next semester.
Additive manufacturing engineering students tuned into Skerbitz after his friend and colleague Ruth Cho, community life advocate at the Dayle McIntosh Center, searched the internet last fall, looking into the possibility of having a custom prosthesis.
She learned about CSUF’s Manufacturing Engineering program and was impressed with James’ biography, which includes expertise in innovative and advanced manufacturing technologies and processes and computer-aided design.
After a few calls and Zoom meetings with James, the professor told Cho that the students were excited about the project.
Cho and Skerbitz are also excited about the technology and look forward to partnering with CSUF on future projects to benefit the disability community.
“It’s a world-changing thing,” Cho said. “I can definitely say that kind of openness opens the door for the disability community.”
Said Skerbitz, “They’re onto something.”