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The toy designer who makes prostheses for amputees with a 3D printer



María José García Crespo - published on 12/10/22

What started as a crowdfunding campaign is now an organization that has changed lives in over 55 countries.

How did a toy designer end up making prostheses for people in Africa and other countries, and appearing on Forbes magazine lists? 

Guillermo Martínez Guana-Vivas is a young industrial engineer who studied at the King Juan Carlos I University in Madrid. He plays the piano, obtained a scholarship from Huawei’s “The Future of ICT” Program in 2015, and spent some time at the Spanish National Research Council to dedicate himself to materials research.

He started his career as a toy designer, and he loves product development and design. The invention of 3D printers, which reached a more accessible price for the general public in 2016, moved his curiosity; he saw them as a way to easily create his own designs.

Guillermo couldn’t resist and bought one of these printers. With it he was able to manufacture his final project for his degree: a drone that helps people in catastrophic situations such as maritime rescue or rescues in collapsed buildings.

He realized that the possibilities are endless, and he considered how he could help more people. In 2017, he planned to travel to Kenya and discovered that there were no prostheses available there for amputees without elbows. In addition, prostheses are very expensive and not affordable for everyone.

He came up with the idea of making these articulated arms with his printer and delivered them to 5 people in the Rift Valley. 

Would it be possible to help more people?

At the age of 22, he set to work and designed this very specific type of prosthesis. He decided to start a non-profit to make and distribute them, Ayúdame3D, funded by donations and partners.

He told PlasticsleMag:

When I got my first 3D printer, I discovered that it could be used for many more things. So I put that into practice and realized that helping others with my technological knowledge was very satisfying. My first prosthesis was given to a teacher in Kenya who told me, not without emotion, that he was finally going to be able to pick up a book and a pencil at the same time for the first time in his life. I knew I couldn’t stop there, so I created Ayúdame3D.

What started as a crowdfunding campaign is now an organization that has reached more than 55 countries around the world. In order to achieve this, he asked for help from other professionals in the sector and shared his own knowledge and experience.

Ayúdame3D creates and delivers (free of charge) these arms, called “Trésdesis,” to people with disabilities. “Our Trésdesis (the name of the prosthesis range) are 3D printed arms made from PLA, a polymer derived from plant resources such as corn starch. They fit onto the joints (wrist, elbow, shoulder) and all you have to do is activate the muscles near these joints to set the clamp in motion,” he explained to PlasticsleMag.

Guillermo is convinced that this technology can reduce the inequality these people face, improve their quality of life, and provide them with better opportunities for employability and schooling.

The Helpers network

Anyone who is interested and motivated can print these prostheses. This being the case, Guillermo has created a national network of people of all ages who 3D print them. He dubbed it the Helpers network. “(T)he prostheses are made by volunteers all over the world who have a 3D printer. In Spain alone, there are over a hundred of them! Without them, we could not help so many people in so many countries,” he told the plastics magazine.

The special value represented by this non-profit organization is that it knows how to design these prostheses, since they must have customized measurements for each individual.

For young children, their arm prostheses can be styled after their favorite fictional characters – for example, an arm like Spiderman’s arm.

For older people, who need lighter prostheses, devices weighing just about one pound have been created. It changes an elderly woman’s life if she can lift her arm to comb her hair, cook, or dress herself more easily.

Through a program of collaboration with companies, he has been able to get people involved and raise awareness. He has created what he calls Technology-driven Corporate Social Responsibility programs. Its aim is to create a more ethical and supportive business environment and to promote actions that help people around the world. His slogan is, “Helping people is too easy for us not to do it.”

In these corporate programs they teach teams of 15 to 20 people how to personalize designs and print them on 3D printers. They provide assembly kits for the prosthetic arms so that they can be fitted by employees and then sent to people who need them.

Ayúdame3D also manufactures corporate merchandising for companies that want to be socially involved.

A mascot that teaches children

Guillermo is convinced of the importance of new generations growing up knowing that they can help others. “It’s possible with initiative, commitment, and effort. And technology can help to achieve this,” he explains. 

“We believe in the benefits of learning about new technologies from a very young age. That’s why we visit schools to develop the creative spirit of children. We believe that this is the first step towards changing the world,” he told PlasticsleMag. “The young audience is then in full development and helping others is almost natural to them. We want to encourage them to follow this path. Everyone can decide to improve our world, their environment, even if it requires initiative, commitment and effort.”

For this reason, he has developed an educational project that acts in two ways: on the one hand, it promotes social entrepreneurship, and on the other, it teaches 3D printing.

The name of the educational program is Helping, whose origin lies in the little plastic figure that has become the association’s mascot: Helpi, a cute little monkey with a prosthetic arm.

The program “designed for students from the 4th year of primary school,” he says. “It trains them in design and 3D printing as well as in developing their social, civic, technological and entrepreneurial skills. We are very proud of it!” The students themselves create aids for the people around them, such as 3D printed arms or cheerful IV boxes for hospitalized children.

More than 30 schools throughout Spain implement the Helping program to create direct social impact from their classrooms.

Guillermo has received numerous awards: the Prince of Girona, from the ONCE Foundation, the Humanitarian Technology Award from the Red Cross… and appears on 4 Forbes lists, including for “Spanish social wealth” and “most creative ideas.”

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