3D printing program helps prepare veterans for jobs

How 3D printing 'will bring mass customization'
How 3D printing 'will bring mass customization'

Joshua Munch wants to help fellow veterans cope with losing their limbs.

So the retired U.S. Army Major created an easier way for wounded vets -- and anyone with limited functionality in their hands or arms -- to use a straw.

During his time in Iraq and Afghanistan, Munch saw military personnel sustain bomb and bullet wounds that led to the loss of limbs or decreased functionality. While researching assistive items for people with disabilities, Munch noticed a lack of options for the seemingly simple challenge of drinking through a straw.

"People have challenges holding a straw in a glass and end up spilling cups trying to get to their straw because they don't have use of their fingers or they're missing limbs," Munch, 41, told CNNMoney.

In a six-week 3D Veterans program at St. Philip's College in San Antonio, Texas, Munch built a prototype device that clips on the lip of a cup and has two holes to keep a straw stationary.

In the pilot program this fall, 3D Veterans trained 15 vets in 3D printing, design and additive manufacturing. The organization prepares participants for the changing employment landscape by helping them make assistive products for disabled veterans. Projects from the pilot include a prosthetic hand and a lightweight, affordable ankle attachment for leg prosthetics.

straw holder dolphin veteran

At 3D Veterans, Munch, who served in the Army for 17 years, designed a slender device that can hold a standard soda straw. The first prototype took 20 minutes to create with a 3D printer. The final prototype took less than a week using materials provided by 3D Veterans -- a process that would normally take months and cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Related: The workplace of the future -- virtual reality and 3D panoramas

Munch's children said his initial design was a bit too boring, so he created animal-themed clips, too.

3D printing is becoming affordable and ubiquitous, impacting industries from healthcare to autos to food. Soon, the technology could even manufacture skin.

In a study earlier this year, Gartner found that 65% of manufacturing companies are currently using or plan to invest in 3D printing over the next two years.

3d veterans autodesk

Shawn Tillman, a former Army Military Intelligence Officer, designed a case for organizing diabetic devices. Inspired by a fellow vet in her program, as well as her grandmother who had diabetes, she created a more fashionable carrying case. She's now working on building a case to keep insulin temperature stable.

Tillman wants to take what she learned in the 3D Veterans program and apply it to her career as a physical therapist and yoga instructor -- to somehow integrate 3D printing into athletics.

This month, the Obama administration announced a collaboration between the Department of Veterans Affairs and America Makes to help expand 3D Veterans bootcamps to Los Angeles; San Francisco; Carson, California; Philadelphia and El Paso, Texas. The programs will teach 3D printing and manufacturing to over 400 veterans and transitioning service members.

Munch recently began work as a contractor with the Department of Defense, and plans to continue perfecting his patented design and business plan during his down time.

"If I get this out there into the veterans' community, to be able to give back to those that you worked with and served with, that's the big benefit to it," Munch said.

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