8th Graders use Autodesk to Design a Medical Device for a Disabled Man


By Scott J Grunewald

Thanks to Autodesk’s Design the Future program students at Swanson Middle School are participating in a class project to design, 3D model and 3D print a new medical device that will make it easier for a disabled student to interact with his communication device.


Kris Martini is Arlington Public Schools director of career, technical and adult education. When a colleague asked him for advice on replacing the self-made device that her son used to interact with the touchscreen interface on his wheelchair he wanted to see if he could help. The school district had just received new MakerBot 3D printers and educational copies of Autodesk’s new cloud-based design software Fusion 360, so after conferring with 8th grade teacher Jim Marino, a new classroom project was born.
device old 3d printing

The device the students are trying to replace is constructed from a piece of PCV pipe and a pencil. It allows him to interact with the touchscreen communication device attached to his wheelchair.

The 8th grade engineering students split up into several teams and started with a brainstorming session, once they had settled on some ideas they turned to Fusion 360 to begin the design process. Martini said that he was pleased with how quickly the students picked up the 3D designing software. Without the donation of Fusion 360 they would have created their designs out of wood or cardboard, a process that was difficult for many students and would often produce imprecise and impractical prototypes.

device student 3d printing“They are kind of drawing it and pulling it, and they’re not really concerned with ‘Well how do I draw this?’ because they have this kind of piece of clay and they can mold their design from that.” Martini continued “The design process teaches them to weed out the designs that don’t really meet the challenge, and they actually do what’s called a design matrix where they rate each of their brainstorms and through that they’re able to take a final idea and model it with the software.”


Once the prototypes were completed they were presented to the disabled man’s mother and his occupational therapist for review. They selected three of the devices that showed the most promise and sent the students back to refine the design, a process that will continue this fall when they return for a new school year.
device cad 3d printing

One of the three final designs to be refined by students in the Fall.

It’s pretty hard to imagine that engineering students went from gluing together cardboard and balsa wood to designing a medical device with powerful, professional quality software and 3D printing their designs within the span of a single year. It’s also hard to imagine that in 2014 students are just now being given access to this technology, especially when you see how quickly they not only learned to use it, but excelled at using it.

If you are a school district that would like to teach students to use 3D design software you can apply for Autodesk’s Design the Future program. Autodesk will provide qualifying schools in North America with free software, training and a 3D design curriculum to enhance their STEM education departments.

Jarrett Neil Ridlinghafer
Founder & CEO/CTO
Synapse Synergy Group, Inc.