Celebrating 8 Years of the e-NABLE Movement

e-nable 3D printed prosthetic with original design

The e-NABLE Community is an amazing group of thousands of individuals from all over the world who are using their 3D printers to create free 3D printed hands and arms for those in need of an upper limb assistive device.

They are people who have put aside their political, religious, cultural and personal differences – to come together and collaborate on ways to help improve the open-source 3D printable designs for hands and arms for those who were born missing fingers or who have lost them due to war, disease or natural disaster.

The e-NABLE Community is made up of  teachers, students, engineers, scientists, medical professionals, tinkerers, designers, parents, children, scout troops, artists, philanthropists, dreamers, coders, makers and every day people who just want to make a difference and help to “Give The World A Helping Hand.”

This year marks the 8th anniversary of the birth of what would eventually become what is now the e-NABLE Movement.

While many see e-NABLE as a group of individuals who are using their resources and talents to make a difference with new technologies, it is important that people are reminded that e-NABLE isn’t about 3D printed hands.

e-NABLE is about being kind to others and doing what you can, with what you have, where you are…to make a difference.

Our origin story is kind of wild, a little crazy and ultimately rooted in a love for art, spreading kindness and helping others.

Never doubt that your ideas and imaginations can change the world.

Read on to discover how e-NABLE came to be and find out how you can help it to grow even bigger!

April 2011 | It All Began with Cosplay Nerds!

Jen and Ivan Owen with their steampunk cosplay costumes for Norwescon in Seattle of 2011

In April of 2011, artist and designer Ivan Owen created a crazy metal functional puppet hand to wear to his first-ever steampunk convention with his fellow artist and friend, Jen Owen.

Ivan’s giant metal hand was a huge hit at the event and when they returned home from their adventure, he decided to post a short video of it on Youtube.

December 2011 | The Email

The video that Ivan shared was somewhat forgotten about until one evening, he opened his email to see a message from Richard, a carpenter in South Africa who had lost his fingers in a woodworking accident. Richard asked Ivan if he would be interested in helping him to create a functional finger replacement after he had searched online and discovered that a single prosthetic finger would cost him around $10,000 US Dollars.

He had been trying to design his own, but came upon the video that Ivan had uploaded and reached out for help.

January – October 2012 | Collaboration Across 10,000 Miles

Ivan Owen, collaborating with Richard Van As on the first 3d printed finger design

Because Ivan and Richard were 10,000 miles apart, they had to work together through skype and email.

In early January of 2012, Richard sent a plastic mold of his hand to Ivan so that Ivan could design a device specifically for him.

corporal coles

Ivan started researching prosthetic devices and stumbled upon the story of Corporal Coles hand. It was created in the early 1800’s by an Australian dentist named Dr. Robert Norman who constructed it from whalebone, cables, and pulleys. This one hand, created over 100 years prior, inspired the design of what is now the building block for every e-NABLE Community 3D printed hand.

Design process for the first 3D printed e-nable hands

During the design process, they had to use objects they could both find around their homes and respective countries. Sometimes this involved items such as toilet paper tubes, leather scraps, zip ties, fishing line, rubber bands, surgical tubing, duct tape and various other items they could find.

March 2012 – First Blog is Created

As Ivan and Richard started making progress on the design for a single finger, Jen had started photographing the stages of development and sharing with her family and friends on social media channels. She decided it would be easier and more fun to create a blog, so that those that were interested in following their story, could visit and read about their adventures.

The Media started picking up their stories.

News articles about e-NABLE's origins

November 2012 – Time to Meet in Person

The robofinger design by Ivan Owen and Richard Van As

In early September, Ivan and Richard realized they had gone just about as far as they could go through online communication. They started a crowdfunding campaign to help get Ivan to South Africa so that he and Richard could work in person.

While they were raising money for airfare, a generous donor provided frequent flier miles so that Ivan could get to South Africa.

November 2012 – Along Came Liam

As more news articles and social media clips started circulating about Ivan and Richard’s work on a single finger design, people started reaching out to them personally to ask for help.

One of those people was Yolandi, the mother of a 5-year-old boy named Liam. Their family also lived in South Africa and she had read that Ivan was planning to fly down there to help Richard and had hoped he would be able to help her son too.

Liam was born missing his fingers on his right hand due to Amniotic Band Syndrome. He had never had fingers on his right hand before, so he had learned to do everything without them.

She had read the blog and had seen stories on Facebook. She messaged to ask if Ivan and Richard would be interested in creating a whole hand for her son, instead of just the single finger.

November 2012 | The First Prototype for an e-NABLE Hand Came to Life.

Designing the first metal hand for a child

Yolandi had reached out just in time.

With just 3 days before he was set to leave on his journey, Ivan was able to take the design for that giant mechanical hand he had created for that first Steampunk convention, and shrink it down to a tiny 4 fingered version that he would be able to take with him to South Africa.

November 2012 | The World Was Waiting

After Ivan boarded his flight to head off on his long journey to meet Richard in South Africa, Jen asked people to send her videos and photos of themselves with words of encouragement for them.

Friends, family and even strangers showered them with images of inspirational quotes written on their hands, holding up posters and sending love to them from afar.

Thanksgiving 2012 | Liam’s New Hand

Building the first prototype of what would become the first 3D Printed hand for a child in the world

With a limited number of days available to work in person once he landed in South Africa 28 hours after leaving the USA, Ivan and Richard jumped right into finalizing the single finger prototype for Richard.

They then invited Liam’s family over for a full day of building what would ultimately become the original e-NABLE hand.

Liam was able to help build his very own hand.

The first prototype for e-NABLE hands

It was made from aluminum bar stock, rivets, screws, copper tubing, fishing line and some thermoplastic. While it was bulky, awkward and still missing a thumb, Liam was able to strap it to his arm and pick up a ball and other objects for the first time in his life.

December 2012 | Liam’s Progress

Little Liam practiced daily with his new hand with the help of his mom and brother.

She created exercises for him to do at home and sent videos to Ivan to share.

Liam was determined to make his new hand work and learn how to use it, instead of getting frustrated and giving up. Because of this, Ivan and Richard were able to see how he was using the hand to get ideas for improvements for the next design.

December 2012 | The First 3D Printed Prosthetic Hand for a Child

The first design for a 3D printed e-NABLE hand by Ivan Owen

While creating that first hand prototype for Liam, Ivan and Richard realized that because of his age, Liam would quickly outgrow the device and it would be exhausting trying to keep remaking it out of the same materials.

Ivan started researching the use of 3D printing to create the next version.

He taught himself how to use 3D printer design software and contacted Makerbot, a 3D printer company to ask if they would be interested in donating a 3D printer so that he could make new hands for Liam as he grew.

Makerbot was excited to see what they were doing and donated 2 3D printers so that Ivan could design and send the files to Richard via email, who would then in turn print them out on his machine and assemble into a hand for Liam to test out.

They called the first device a “Robohand.”

Liam would then give them feedback on what was working and what didn’t feel good in each new design until they came up with the final prototype for him.

January 2013 | The first 3D Printed Open-Source Design is Shared with the World

The first 3D printed e-NABLE hand design

After watching Liam with his new 3D printed hand they all realized that if this design could help one child, it could potentially help thousands.

They made the collective decision to forego any potential to make profits from this design and instead, published it to the internet as an open-source, public domain file so that anyone, anywhere in the world with access to a 3D printer – could make one for themselves or someone else in need.

News article about 3d printed e-NABLE hands

The best chance for the design to help the most people, was to share it and hope those other designers would find it and improve it and reshare it back into the world.

July 2013 | The e-NABLE Google Plus Community is Born

The first 3D printed e-NABLE hand

In exchange for the donating two 3D printers, Makerbot asked that they get to create a video to share about the first 3D printed hand prosthesis for Liam.

Once the video was shared, fellow makers and 3D printing enthusiasts started leaving comments on the video to state that they would be interested in helping to make 3D printed hands for other people who may need them too.

Jon Schull, then a professor at RIT, noticed that people were interested in helping and decided to start a Google Plus community where they could gather and communicate. He set up a Google Map where those who had 3D printers and wanted to help, could put a pin to show their location and let those who needed a 3D printed hand know how to find them.

Map of e-NABLE Volunteers

He left a comment on the video and invited people to join.

By the end of July, the first 70 e-NABLE Volunteers had joined the Google plus community and were actively working on cleaning up the designs and trying to locate recipients.

January 2014 | The enablingthefuture.org Website is Created

enablingthefuture.org website banner

Jen suggested that this new community allow her to start sharing their stories and create a blog. With their permission and the permission of the recipient families, she created enablingthefuture.org – the home of the e-NABLE Community’s history and stories of inspiration and hope.

The media started picking up the stories and families with limb different children started finding the e-NABLE Community and asking for help.

January – September 2014 – e-NABLE Superheroes

Children with their 3D printed e-NABLE hands

Famlies starting finding the Google Plus Community and volunteers began creating devices for recipients and connecting with these families. Parents of limb different children were joining and becoming designers and makers of these hands themselves.

Fun themed 3D printed e-NABLE hands

Designers started getting creative with and the recipients were eager to get their own “Super Hero” hands.

Many of the children who have upper limb differences, tend to be bullied or feel very self-conscious and tend to hide their hands and arms.

Now, with superhero themed hands, they were suddenly the envy of everyone in the class.

Limb different children assemble their own 3D Printed e-NABLE hands with Marvel Universe Live

Volunteers started teaching families and recipients how to assemble their own devices. Children were building their own 3D printed hands and learning how to teach others to do the same.

A limb different child assembles his own 3D printed e-NABLE hand with his brother

September 2014 | e-NABLE’s First Conference

e-NABLE at their first conference in 2014

In September of 2014, Dr. Albert Chi, a leading trauma surgeon learned about e-NABLE and invited the community to hold a conference at Johns Hopkins Medical Center.

They called it “Prosthetists Meets Printers.”

Over 400 people attended. The participants were made up of medical professionals, hand therapists, medical students, e-NABLE volunteers and 25 recipients and their families.

Boxes of unassembled 3d printed e-NABLE Hands

In just 72 hours, the global e-NABLE Community had been given a call to action and organized by volunteer Jeremy Simon of 3D Universe to send as many 3D printed hand parts as possible to the conference so that volunteers could teach not only medical professionals how to assemble the devices, but also the families and recipients.

A child and his mother assemble their own 3D printed e-NABLE hand

December 2014 | The First Hand-A-Thon is Born

Scout troops assembling 3D printed e-NABLE hands

After attending the e-NABLE Conference and joining the e-NABLE Community, volunteer Maria Esquela put together an event with local scout troops in Baltimore. She created the first-ever e-NABLE “Hand-a-thon” where over 100 boy and girl scouts, their parents and mentors spent their entire Saturday, working in teams to assemble 3D printed hands.

The hands were boxed up and sent to a clinic on the Syrian border where children and adults who had lost their hands due to war, were waiting for them.

January 2014-December 2015 | Design Boom

A collage of 3d printed hand prosthetic designs from the e-NABLE Community

Throughout 2014, the e-NABLE Community exploded with new designs. Designers were joining by the thousands.

By the end of 2015, the first 3D printed, low cost, myo-electric version had been developed.

e-NABLE in STEM education using 3D printed prosthetics

Teachers starting using e-NABLE as an example of how 3D printing could be used as STEM based learning projects in their classrooms. Thousands of students all over the world started participating in the project.

e-NABLE Today

Numerous e-NABLE 3d printed hand designs

The e-NABLE Google Plus Community started with around 100 people who were simply offering to print the files that were already in existence. A handful of devices had been made for children in various parts of the world.

Within that first year – the e-NABLE community grew from 100 members to over 3000. They created over 750 hands for people around the world and numerous new designs had been developed. The designers reshared those files into the public domain as open-source designs.

Within another year – they had more than doubled to nearly 7000 members with approximately 2000 devices created and gifted to individuals in over 45 countries.

All of these 3D printed hands and arms were free to the end user thanks to the incredible volunteers in our community.

By the end of 2018, the e-NABLE Community had over 10,000 members and an online matching system called Enable Web Central that was created by Jeremy Simon and his team from 3D Universe to help recipients connect with makers.

As of November 2019, nearly 7 years after the first device was created for Liam out of metal and scrap materials, there have been approximately 7,000 3D printed hands and arms created and gifted to children and adults in need in over 100 countries around the world. There are an estimated 30,000 e-NABLE Volunteers (Including students and teachers) who are helping to make a difference in their local communities, clinics and schools all across the globe.

There are over a dozen new designs and more being shared every day.

The e-NABLE Community has over 140 e-NABLE Chapters and hundreds of schools participating in helping to make free 3D printed hands for those in need.

a collage of children with 3D printed e-nable hands

You never know where your ideas and imagination will take you!

Will you join us?
Want to donate?
Need a hand?
Start a chapter!

Together, we can change the world.

Liam, the first child to get a 3D printed prosthetic e-NABLE hand
Liam with one of his 3D printed e-NABLE hands.

Want to Donate?

If you would like to help support the e-NABLE Community by donating hand assembly kits to send to summer camps for children with limb differences, school groups or volunteers who need assistance with materials costs or you want to help with purchasing filament to send to volunteers who have waitlists, please see information below!

3D Universe has created a Sponsorship Program to help support the needs of our growing e-NABLE Community. You can purchase gift cards through 3D Universe that will be used to pay for filament, assembly kits and 3D printers for our volunteers and families in need. Click below to find out more:


donate 3d printed hand for e-NABLE

If you would like to donate the assembly kits that include the padding, velcro straps, screws, elastics and gel tips needed to complete the hands so that clinics and classrooms do not have to purchase these materials, please visit the links below to be directed to 3D Universe where you can purchase an assembly kit and have it shipped directly to an e-NABLE Volunteer that will send it along with the donated hand kits.

**These kits will not be sent to you. They will be sent to the address above to be used for assembly and educational events. If you are in need of an assembly kit of your own, please visit our resources page HERE.

Want to know how else you can help? Visit our donations page to learn more!

Thank you for supporting our movement, our volunteers and our journey! We can’t wait to see where we are when it is time to celebrate our 10 year anniversary!

A quote by Margaret Mead written in ink on a hand

“Now all the fingers of this tree (darling) have hands, and all the hands have people; and more each particular person is (my love) alive than every world can understand…” – E.E. Cummings

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.