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FHS students design 3-D prosthetic finger for Masse

Technology at Friona High School has taken a giant leap forward in recent months with the designing and printing of a 3-D finger.

Almost a year ago, Bryant Masse, FHS ISS instructor, was firing a pistol when it misfired and severed his left middle finger below the second joint leaving him with just a nub.

During a conversation with his friend, Coach David Towner, Digital & Interactive Media instructor, not too long after the accident, Towner mentioned, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could print you a new finger?”

Fortunately, for Towner and Masse, FISD Superintendent Pam Ray had approved the purchase of a 3-D printer and it would be delivered in June.

When the current school year started the students in Towner’s class were learning the Google Sketchup and to draw in 3-D. Towner gave them the task to design a prosthetic finger.

Masse, Towner, and the students studied a number of YouTube videos to get a grasp of what would be needed to make the new digit work. Masse also pointed out that one man had used bicycle parts to build a prosthetic finger.

The students creating the first renditions were Manuel Castaneda, Jr., Samuel Chihuahua, Erika Grado, Fabian Ledezma-Gonzalez, Verenice Mendoza, Raul Silva and Taylor Stallings.

After many trials and errors, the class members submitted their renditions of the new finger. Towner combined the students renditions and used the best of the designs.

It wasn’t until the second semester began that actual measurements were taken and fabrication began. Students Bryan Arzate, Austin Mercado and Jason Kelley were assigned to do the measurements. The measurements were made with a caliper. Every step of building the finger had to be measured and remeasured before being printed. Measurements were taken for every socket, top and bottom, and length from tip to base and the linkage length.

“We saw a nub and started measuring it,” stated Kelley.

The finger was printed in red PLA (polyactic acid) plastic and Black Ninja Flex. The PLA material takes the place of what would be bones in a normal finger. The Ninja Flex material would take the place of softer structures in a finger (fat and muscles). It would also give a softer touch to anyone who would come in contact with it giving a more realistic touch. Both colors where chosen to represent the Friona Chieftains and Squaws.

“We put it all together with Google Sketchup,” stated student Taylor Stallings.

The first finger was rejected due to it being too long. Adjustments were made and a finger of suitable length was printed and trying to make sure the knuckles would line up with the rest on the hand.

The next issue to conquer was getting the finger to move and flex. Inside the finger is an elastic band which pulls the finger straight and fishing line allows it to bend when the finger moves. The fishing line was attached to a plastic stick that stretches along the back if the hand and is attached to a piece of yarn tied around Masse’s wrist to insure movement. The piece of yarn is to be replaced with a bracelet of Masse’s choosing.

Masse’s muscles in his hand had begun to atrophy so the new finger will medically help ease the atrophy. He expects to have a year of building the muscles and endurance.

“I can hold and grip things, shake hands, etc.,” stated Masse. “Simple tasks of twisting bottles and gripping strength will come back eventually.”

“It’s cool he can do something with his fingers,” stated Arzate.

“The reactions were awesome (after the finger was printed),” stated Masse. “The kids were smiling more and proud of their project and how it worked.”

“I am looking forward to what the doctor says when he wears it for his next appointment,” mused Towner.

Flexibility is coming along with each passing day although wearing it for more than an hour causes the nub to become sore and sensitive. Masse is still having muscle cramps when he wears it for any length of time but that endurance will grow.

“I sent pictures and a couple videos to my dad, who shared them with a family member (who is also an educator) and now they are requesting the plans and more information in Ulysses, Kansas for class projects,” stated Towner.

“I wanted to show people that just because you have a slight limitation in life your life is not ruined,” stated Masse. “I can still do things. Anything is possible if you put your mind to it.”

Masse mentioned that the military are his inspiration. “Their drive and tenacity is inspirational to me.”

The work still continues on making adjustments but Masse is adjusting to the prosthesis. Towner and his class continue to study more efficient ways to improve on their design.

“It is a work in progress,” stated Towner.

dana jameson photos

Bryant Masse, above center rear, was the recipient of a prosthetic finger designed and printed by the students of Coach David Towner’s Digital & Interactive Media class at FHS. The new finger, right, was printed on a 3-D printer. Class members are, back, l-r, Towner, Bryan Arzate, Jason Kelly, Taylor Stallings, Austin Mercado and Manuel Castaneda; front, l-r, Erika Grado, Verenice Mendoza, Fabian Ledezma-Gonzalez, Samuel Chihuahua, and Raul Silva. Below, Bryant shows the flexibility of the prosthesis.