AN ENGINEER with a 3D printer and a passion to help those in need.
That sums up Mat Bowtell, a Phillip Island local who left his corporate career behind after he was made redundant as part of the automotive industry closure in 2017.
He decided to use his engineering skills to make free 3D hands for children in need of a prosthetic limb.
Mat became a full-time volunteer to design and manufacture 3D printed hands and fingers for those cannot access or afford them.
A myo-electric arm can cost up to $15,000; although a child can quickly outgrow this within one year making it difficult to justify getting funding for one.
In comparison, a 3D hand can be made for as little as $8 in materials.
But rather than licence his designs for profit, Mat has made them freely available to download online so that anyone with access to a 3D printer can make them.
One of Mat’s designs, the “Kinetic Finger” has been downloaded over 3000 times, to an equivalent value of approximately $18 million dollars.
“My vision is to continue developing hundreds of designs that will be available long after I am gone,” said Mat.
Mat was recognised as the 2018 Victorian Local Hero in the Australian of the Year Awards and rightfully so.
He now works as a full-time volunteer, expanding his knowledge daily to develop new designs.
“One girl just wanted to be able to skip with her friends at school. Our skipping rope attachment has now been sent to about a hundred kids around the world,” said Mat.
Mat and his wife have managed to expand their workspace from one 3D printer in their home to 18 3D printers in a large factory space on Phillip Island.
This has been purely expanded from crowdfunding, humanitarian grants and utilising his redundancy payment from Toyota.
The new factory has a dedicated 3D printing room, a volunteer-run Just-In-Time assembly line and a collaborative research and development laboratory.
“We also have a ‘Wall of Gratitude’ with every individual name of people who have helped me to get this to where we are. This has been a huge global community effort,” said Mat.
Whilst studying engineering at Monash University, Mat in 2004 was sent to Chiba University in Japan on a scholarship to study mechatronics.
“During that time, I tried on a one-million-dollar bionic arm. I was very impressed with the technology but felt a bit sad that this amazing technology would not likely ever make it to those people who really need it, especially those in less developed countries,” said Mat.
Mat believes that as a society, we have a fundamental responsibility to look after those who are less fortunate than ourselves.
He states that if he charged even $10 for a hand, then to him it would only be worth $10, but when you give it to someone for free, it then becomes priceless.
“Through what I am doing, I am hoping to encourage prosthetic and bionic developers to innovate, to use smarter engineering, and make devices that are accessible to all,” said Mat.
You can donate to Free 3D Hands by visiting www.free3dhands.com and clicking ‘Support Here’ where you will be directed to the crowd-funding page.