Expert views 4 min

"Our social values also include choosing the right polymer"

An interview with Guillermo Martínez Gauna-Vivas, founder of Ayúdame3D, a Spanish NGO that makes PLA-printed prostheses for the most deprived countries.
"Our social values also include choosing the right polymer"

Many NGOs offer 3D printed prostheses, but few are aimed at the most deprived populations. How do you operate?

Our credo is a simple one: to give meaning to technology and innovation by making them accessible to all! 3D printing offers so many possibilities to help others that it seems obvious to us to use it for this purpose. In order to offer our prostheses to the most deprived people, especially in Africa, we rely on a very large network of volunteers who own 3D printers, who agree to print our prosthesis models. But this is not enough, which is why we are also seeking to foster closer links with the business world by organising teambuilding programmes and conferences on their potential social impact. This is also a way to spread our social values. This model allows us to help people with disabilities around the world. The key word is collaboration!



Your prostheses are quite simple. How do they work?

I wouldn't say they are simple, that's an oversimplification. They are above all functional. They are designed to allow you to pinch and grasp objects. Moreover, they are customisable and therefore adapted to each individual. 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. The people who wear them see their daily life improve because they can now grasp objects, get dressed, and eat on their own without having to ask for assistance.
Using this polymer imbues the prostheses with other advantages: firstly, their light weight, as it is well known that plastics are light, and secondly, their impermeability to water and humidity. They can be kept on in the shower, for example, which is very useful for grabbing soap.



Can you present the different models?

There are currently three different types of prostheses: Nelly, for people without a hand, Mery: for people with an elbow and Vicky: for people without an elbow. Each of them is of course customisable.



Did you design them yourself?

Initially, we were largely inspired by models that could be found online on the Internet. With experience and time, we have created our own models which we are constantly improving based on user feedback. For example, our prostheses now have articulated fingers. We are particularly proud of the Trésdesis Vicky because it was designed entirely by us. It is a major innovation “made in Ayúdame3D” because until 2017, when it was released, there were no 3D printed prostheses for above-the-elbow amputees.



Why did you select PLA to manufacture your prostheses?

We chose PLA primarily because it is easy to obtain and simple to use. Remember that the 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.

Is the fact that PLA is a biobased and recyclable material important?

This was another reason for our choice. For your information, we also manufacture solidarity products. These are medical devices that are also 3D printed, such as anti-covid masks, pillboxes designed for people suffering from Parkinson's disease or chemo boxes for children with cancer (personalised boxes that can hold all the elements needed for chemotherapy sessions). We strive to always use recycled PLA as this makes our medical devices more sustainable and gives them an additional social aspect. We source locally, as close to the users as possible to reduce our carbon impact.

How do you promote yourself to your target populations?

We work with various social organisations in the countries where we operate. We work with other NGOs, but also with governmental organisations, such as the Spanish army, which helped us send more than 40 prostheses to Mali, Senegal and Lebanon in 2020. On the other hand, social networks are essential and we receive many requests through them.
In total, we have so far delivered more than 500 prostheses, more than 20,000 COVID masks and about 50 chemoboxes.


Can you introduce yourself and explain how and why you created Ayúdame3D?

I am an engineer from Madrid, Spain where I started my career as a toy designer. I have always been passionate about toys and their design. Thanks to 3D printing, I found a way to create my own designs. 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 realised 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. Five years later, we're still here and we're still innovating.




Finally, can you tell us about your school leadership programme?

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. 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. This is why we have created Helping, a socio-technological learning programme. Designed for students from the 4th year of primary school, 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!

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