Efficient Engineering
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Hands-On Building Combines Creativity and Community at MD&M Show

Innovative exhibitors liven up MD&M East with 3D-printed prosthetic hands and battling robots.

This year’s MD&M East ran June 13-17 at New York City’s Javits Center, where it offered over 60 hours of learning and hands-on activities. These expositions are serious business for many companies. A single show could represent a large portion of a company’s sales. Companies use expos as a way to get out in front of customers and grab some attention and market share.

It is surprising how few exhibitors offer engineers something they love doing—building! At this year’s MD&M, e-Nable and TeamWorx got attention in a show of over 900 exhibitors with not much more than some tables, chairs, and tools.

e-Nabling the Future

e-Nable started from a simple mashup map of the world asking people to put a pin on it and designate it if they needed a hand or could lend a hand. Founder Jon Schull had no idea what this would become. Millions of people have had accidents, been victims of war, or suffered illnesses that have left them without a hand. Prosthetics can be expensive, especially for children. Since children are still growing, they will require multiple prosthetics as they grow.

This month (until June 30) Johnson & Johnson will be matching any donation by going to CaringCrowd.org and donating to Lend a Hand to Build a Hand. This will double your donation to help children around the world without access to prosthetics to receive a 3D-printed one.

By using simple 3D-printed parts, makers are able to print a hand from a library of parts created by the e-Nable community, or contribute their own design. This can then be printed, assembled, and sent to someone in need. In one year the e-Nable community grew from 100 to 3,000 members and created over 750 hands for people across the world.

At the MD&M show, VooDoo Manufacturing—a 3D printing service based in Brooklyn—sent pre-printed kits for showgoers to assemble, and e-Nable to ship to a child in need. I was impressed by the design and material of the hand. The design was simple, and designed in such a way that it didn’t require any tools. Some of the clips had to be forced into the holes. At no point did the parts or fasteners break, or even feel like they would.

Once finished, the team decorated the hand, wrote a card to the person receiving it, and put it into a bag to be shipped. Jon said this batch would most likely go to children in India. This was a great way to sit down and do a little creating while helping out someone less fortunate.   


After walking the show floor a bit more, I found another hands-on demo at the TeamWorx booth where teams were constructing robots for battle. All the hard work is done for you, so no experience is needed. The robots are radio-controlled and have an attack arm with a sharp wire on the end. On the back we clipped balloons.


Once all the teams assembled the robots we battled by the MD&M stage. There was quite the crowd as a biomedical team battled a team of mechanical engineering students to the death… or until the balloons popped, whichever happened first. The biomedical team won the competition and set a new assembly time record. The previous record was set by Facebook employees at about 32 minutes. The new record to assemble this robot is about 25 minutes.

I hope to find more hands-on activities like this at expos in the future. They are engaging, fun, and if done right, could show off a company’s products and abilities. Personally, I’m waiting for the day we have a robotic Olympics to determine who builds the best manufacturing equipment.      

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