RACV lends 3D printing charity a helping hand
A former Toyota engineer is making prosthetic hands accessible to those in need.
When Mat Bowtell gives a hand, he does so literally. Mat makes 3D-printed prosthetic hands for a fraction of the usual $20,000 commercial cost and gives them to people in need – without charging a cent.
When COVID-19 hit, he re-purposed some of his dozens of 3D printers to make 4000 face shields for Victoria’s front-line health workers while continuing his work making prosthetics.
The only thing holding back Mat and his charity, Free 3D Hands, was unreliable power at his Phillip Island factory.
“Even the smallest disruption to the power supply during production means we need to scrap the printed materials and start again,” Mat says.
That’s where RACV Solar stepped in. Along with support from Tesla, Fronius, Trina Solar and Clenergy, as well as the Bass Coast Shire Council, Phillip Island RSL and local schools, RACV Solar has gifted a fail-safe rooftop solar energy system to the charity.
The RACV Solar team installed a 30kW solar power system and two Tesla Powerwall batteries with a total battery storage of 27kWh. It has blackout protection which means the 3D printers can run even when the power goes out. Mat says the system will save the charity up to $15,000 a year in energy costs.
RACV Solar’s chief executive officer Andy McCarthy says Mat’s work is inspiring. “They use the latest 3D-printing technology to improve lives around the world. Mat has even provided his designs for free as open-source downloads so anyone in the world with a 3D printer can make a prosthetic hand. It’s a testament to Mat’s values and integrity.”
The story of Free 3D Hands began when Mat, a former Toyota automotive engineer, was retrenched in 2017. Instead of spending his redundancy payout on luxuries, he invested in a charity to make prosthetic limbs for free, not even charging postage or material costs.
“This is my passion,” says Mat, who had a Eureka moment in 2004 when he tried on a million-dollar bionic arm while on a [university] scholarship at Japan’s Chiba University.
“I was amazed at the technology, it was like Luke Skywalker – half human, half machine,” he says. “But I was saddened that it would never be accessible to people in less developed countries or ordinary Australians who couldn’t afford it.”