September 12, 2016
An interesting program for U.S. veterans concluded on Friday of last week in San Antonio, Texas. A start-up organization, named 3D Veterans, was formed to train veterans in CAD and 3D printing for high-tech American jobs. The first six-week “bootcamp” involved 13 enthusiastic veterans out of 70 applicants. I was lucky enough to witness them in action on Wednesday as they were wrapping up several intriguing final class projects—the culmination of expert instruction and hands-on learning. The projects were aimed at designing and 3D printing devices that would help less fortunate fellow veterans. I was moved by this giving of time, creativity, and energy to other veterans.
The 3D Veterans organization was founded by Michael Moncada and David Schnepp, with subsequent involvement from Andy Miller, Wayne Dudding, and others. I first met Moncada, a veteran himself, at Inside 3D Printing in New York City in April, and what he told me about the program got my attention. Among the current partners and sponsors are America Makes, Autodesk, and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Google.org, Google’s chartable arm, is the primary sponsor. The veterans completed the program with new skills in using Autodesk’s Fusion 360 CAD software, which was used for most of the design work.
I was with the staff and student veterans for about 2.5 hours. I especially wanted to meet the veterans and see their work, and I was lucky enough to get fairly in-depth explanations from six of them. Len, 59, designed a knee brace that he hopes will be more effective and fit more comfortably under a pair of slacks. The available 3D printers and materials did not allow him to complete and test his design, but I like the path he has taken, coupled with his passion. One of his comments to me said it all. “This is the most exciting time of my life,” referring to the class, the knowledge and skills he has gained, and where all of it could take him in the future. Wow!
Another student veteran, Deborah, designed a brace for those with carpal tunnel syndrome. She said the ones on the market work with mixed results. She went on to say, “The course has been challenging and exciting and something I needed.” Other projects involved 1) the use of a transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation device to treat pain, 2) an exoskeleton device for therapy of finger and hand movement, 3) a device to hold a straw in place in a drinking cup or glass, and 4) a versatile cup holder that can be mounted just about anywhere, including onto wheel chairs.
I like this program a lot. Credit goes to Moncada, his colleagues, and the program’s supporters. Gratitude also goes to the participating veterans for enrolling in the program and giving back to fellow veterans. It was a privilege to see, up close, the veterans at work. Plans are underway to expand it into other locations across the U.S. in coming months. If you are interested in supporting this outstanding program or hiring one of the 13 veterans, contact Michael Moncada at firstname.lastname@example.org.