In the mechanical engineering world, we hear a lot these days about 3D printing being used for rapid prototyping. A recent article in American Profile magazine demonstrates its possibilities.

Matthew Shields, 9, was born without fingers on one hand. His mother Jennifer Shields couldn’t afford a professionally made prosthetic, even with health insurance. However, researching online, she found Robohand, a mechanical hand invented by South African carpenter Richard van As, who lost four fingers in a circular saw accident, and theatrical props maker Ivan Owen in Bellingahm, WA. The pair posted the free digital design last year on

Enter Mason Wilde, 17, a straight-A student who aspires to be an engineer and had read about 3D printing technology. “I downloaded all the files and spent about three hours scaling the hand to fit Matthew,” Wilde said in the article. Using a 3D printer at the Johnson County Library in Overland Park, KS,  he fed and melted plastic filament to make parts on the 3D printer, a process that took about eight hours. Wilde assembled the 20 pieces with with nylon cord and stainless steel screws. He attached the mechanical hand to a glove-like cuff that he molded from thermoplastic to fit Matthew’s hand. The materials cost about $60.

Matthew uses backward and forward movements of his wrist to make the fingers open and close. “It’s awesome,” he says.

Meanwhile, Wilde has established a nonprofit organization to raise money to buy a 3D printer and make prosthetics of other people. “It’s an amazing feeling to be able to give someone a hand, something we often take for granted,” he says.