As part of the fifth national Manufacturing Day, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Northrop Grumman Corp. (NGC) hosted 15 students from two Baltimore high school science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs at its Linthicum facility on Sept. 28.
For the students, the event was more than just an educational experience enabling them to learn about technology and manufacturing careers. It was also a unique opportunity to perform an act of international goodwill by assembling prosthetic hands that will be used by children missing fingers, thumbs or partial hands in regions throughout the world affected by war and natural disasters.
The real world tie-in was made possible through an NGC partnership with the nonprofit organization Enabling the Future, which provides the free 3-D-printed prosthetic fingers and hands to children across the world who can’t afford them.
“One of our employees was aware of Enabling the Future through his church ministry, and we thought it was a great fit for what we wanted to do for Northrop Grumman’s Manufacturing Week celebration,” said NGC Vice President of Manufacturing Ingrid Vaughan. “We’re doing the assembly across all 12 of our sites in the United States, with the goal of delivering more than 120 prosthetic hands.”
According to Melina Brown, who serves as Enabling the Future’s program coordinator for fulfillment and evaluation, students used tools to assemble the hands and connect the elastic strings, padding, and hook and loop tape that make them function.
Each hand, made of a paintable clear resin material, costs approximately $30 to $40 to produce, depending on where the materials are sourced.
“They’re not 100% functional like traditional prosthetics, which are heavy and can cost upwards of $2,000,” she said. “These hands are simple, task-specific tools that make it possible for children with no hand, or a partial hand, to do things like pick up a cup, throw a ball or hug their Mom with both arms.”
Acknowledging that her own 9-year-old son uses one of the prosthetic devices to compensate for a missing thumb, Brown said the printed hands are durable. “We had to replace it one time because it broke from an outside influence, not from normal use,” she said.
Traditional prosthetics aren’t usually an option for most children, she said, because they grow so fast and need frequent size upgrades, which insurance companies won’t cover.
“Approximately one in 1,500 children are born with no fingers or some version of upper limb differences,” Brown said, while others suffer traumatic injuries through accidents, violent conflicts and natural disasters. “To be a candidate, they are required to have 30% to 40% of the palm and a 30% range of motion in the wrist.”
Spokesperson Zara Brunner of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) Program wrote in a recent Department of Commerce guest blog that Manufacturing Day serves to highlight the rewarding manufacturing jobs that exist in a diverse array of specialties.
“These jobs are secure and pay higher than average salaries,” she said. “Yet, many manufacturers are facing a shortage of employees to take over as older workers retire.”
In fact, she said, a study by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute estimates that 2 million manufacturing jobs will go unfilled in the U.S. by 2025.
Last year, Manufacturing Day included more than 1,600 open houses, tours and other events in every state. “We’re on track to surpass 2,000 [events] this year,” Brunner said.
This year, she added, the Maryland MEP center teamed with the Regional Manufacturing Institute of Maryland to host a Made in Maryland expo during an Orioles baseball game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards as part of the celebration, which included a pre-party for participating manufacturers, their employees and families.
Thanks to the efforts of 12 million American men and women who make the items that enable our everyday lives, Brunner noted that the manufacturing industry returns $1.37 to the U.S. economy for every $1 in goods produced, for an annual total of $2.09 trillion, which makes U.S. manufacturing the eighth largest economy in the world.
“Our objectives for Manufacturing Day included recognizing and thanking our employees for what they do, showcasing manufacturing as a career for STEM students and showcasing new technologies such as 3-D printing and additive manufacturing,” Vaughan said. “We’re happy that this event not only meets all of those objectives, but also gives us a win-win in being able to give something back to Enabling the Future to help children around the world who are in need.”
Students from the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute (BPI) and the National Academy Foundation School of Baltimore also said the event was beneficial in demonstrating the types of careers open to them.
“I’m interested pursuing a career in electronic and mechanical engineering,” said National Academy Foundation Senior Kirsten Toland.
Her assembly team partner, Aishwarya Shettigar, of BPI, said she “would probably like to pursue something in biomedical applications.”
The assembled hands will eventually find their way to children in Nepal, Syria, the Ukraine and other areas through international clinics that work with Enabling the Future and field requests for the devices.
“They match [organization] volunteers with families who work one-on-one with each other through the process, and we replace the hands whenever they are broken or outgrown,” Brown said. “This is how the magic happens, through volunteers who print the hand sets and the groups that assemble them. This will give us a chance to build our inventory so we can get ahead of the requests and fill the orders as soon as they come in.”