“Our mission is to help people with disabilities access equipment they need,” a young lady softly begins. She then draws our attention to the fact that there are approximately 100 million people around the world who need orthotics or prosthetics. Her spiel continues to other daunting facts, such as how nine out of ten of that number do not receive their orthotics or prosthetics at all. Of those, toddlers and children were more likely to go without as some of them need a prosthetic made every few months as they grow. She describes the current state of services that can not respond and do not meet those demands.
On a winter evening, in one of those modern workspaces where open design meets gameroom and classroom, forty or so entrepreneurs, and one curious teacher, gather for another Design Thinking Meetup to unfold. We gather to learn how design thinking is applied by people in the field; we end up being inspired how design thinking has made lives better. Mel Fuller, the young lady, extrapolates about the various design thinking aspects her team used that help them model the service and products for the millions of people in need. Oh, and become a successful startup called Abilitymade. (https://www.abilitymade.com/)
Beside Mel her is another Mel, Mel Tran. She is one of the team and also one of the “users” of the service. One in a chair and another in a wheelchair, they recount their journey, watching the rise of 3D printers democratise 3D design and prototyping skills, eventually leading to their idea of 3D printing prosthetics and orthotics, and ending the messy war on plaster. At least softening the need for it. They emphasised how it took many iterations and tests to ensure that the 3D scanner created accurate measurements, and how the 3D prints were tested in order to meet high standards. All in all, their service helped health professionals provide faster and more customisable services to their patients. By using their services and technology, they can now scan their patients easily and create faster 3D-printed orthoses. With them, I am more hopeful that there are much less than 100 million people are in dire need of prosthetics and orthotics.
In Mel and Mel’s footsteps, many classes all over Australia pair entrepreneurship and 3D prototyping. My class of Year 5s and 6s also utilised the 3D printer to this end. Over a term, these ten and eleven year olds focused their minds on a need, product or service they can turn profitable. After weeks ideating and empathising with their target audience, these young entrepreneurs would visualise and design their ideas with paper, playdough, paper mache and more often than not, on TinkerCAD, a free website that easily aids 3D design. From there, students almost always printed their 3D design with the school 3D printer. Once printed, the prototype goes through further user-testing with a small group of their target audience, often the younger students who became the hostaged audience. The users would scrutinise that plastic toy prototype while the designers, armed with clipboards took notes on the side. The users would put the toy or jewellery to the test and give further feedback, nods or disapproving looks--all great input for growth and improvements. After that, it’s back to the empathising and ideating phase to churn out better products which culminate in a market day.
In this manner, these child entrepreneurs were building their ability to apply design thinking to both their entrepreneurial endeavour and utilise their ability to prototype with 3D printers. While a curious teacher was fortunate to share these thinking skills and tech skills with the class, there are over a hundred 3D printers zigzagging all over NSW, going from public school to public school, being shared to spread these very skills-- design thinking and 3D printing. The STEMShare Community 3D Printing Kit and their library of resources are perfect for bringing these authentic skills to life in your school. Somewhat parallel, our mission at STEMShare Community is to help students and teachers access the skills and technology they need for their future...and present.