In 2004, a young man named Mat Bowtell was studying mechatronics at Chiba University in Japan. It was here that he tried a bionic arm and learned that the arm had cost US$1m to make. Mat was impressed with the technology but it was the high price that made him sit up and take note. That was when the seed was planted for the idea of a charity that would be founded more than a decade later.
Fast forward some years and Mat had gained a position as an engineer at Toyota. It was in his spare time, and still having his fascination for prostheses that his unusual hobby began. He’d started making prosthetic hands using 3D printers, and of course when the 3D printers boom took off, he set about getting that exorbitant price-tag down.
In 2017 when Toyota made redundancies, 36-year-old Mat made the decision to change the course of his career. Even though he had many offers of lucrative jobs, his passion became his motivation and he began creating prosthetic limbs for people in need around the world… for free! It was then that Free 3D Hands was born, an Australian charity that designs, manufactures and provides assistive devices to anyone with upper limb differences.
1 in 10,000 children are born without bones in their fingers a syndrome called symbrachydactyly, most of those children have no choice but to go without. Due to the cost of prosthetic arms, and the fact that children grow out of them very quickly, funding can be very difficult, particularly in less developed countries.
“We dream of a world where everyone has equal access to devices that will improve their quality of life – because that is the way it should be,” says Mat.
At Free 3D Hands, designs and ideas are shared with specialists collaborating with these prosthetics to make a difference and support to all people with a need. By using 3D printing techniques to manufacture custom devices at a fraction of the cost, there has been potential to eliminate lead-time and costs associated with traditional manufacturing techniques.
Mat and the dedicated team of volunteers – including his wife and their children – work out of a warehouse on Phillip Island. By coming together these volunteers are making a vast difference to the lives of many children worldwide.
During the COVID-19 pandemic Mat had also re-purposed more than a dozen of his 3D printers to manufacture face shields. These are being provided for free in-line with the charity’s constitution, as additional PPE for those who still continue to work in areas such as aged care, hospitals, clinics and emergency services.
This Thank You Thursday, we give a huge shout out to Mat for his generosity and passion, and to the team at Free 3D Hands for their enthusiasm and motivation to really creating hands with heart.
See you in the pond,
The Fish Chick