matthew grieco chris dudickMatthew Grieco of Freehold created a mechanical hand out of 3D printed parts

PHOTO: Matthew Grieco (left) with Small Factory owner Chris Dudick (right) holding the mechanical arm he created.

Holmdel, NJ – At just 17 years old and entering into his senior year at Freehold Township High School, Matthew Grieco was watching the news one day and saw students at Rice University building a mechanical arm out of 3D printed parts. The students were later going to donate the arm that they had made to a person who missing a hand. From that moment on, Matthew was intrigued and inspired to create the change that he saw on his television.

“I had always been fascinated by 3D printers, but now I could build something and then donate it to help someone else,” Matthew said. “I am always thinking of how to give back to the community, and this was a perfect way to couple that with my passion for engineering and my curiosity with 3D printing.”

Matthew instantly picked up the phone and started making calls to people and places that would allow him to use their 3D printer to print the parts he needed to start building his own mechanical arm. At first, he didn’t have much luck, but after one specific phone call, his project was set into action. Matthew talked to Chris Dudick, the owner of Small Factory Productions, who was excited about his ideas and eager to help him.

“Chris allowed me to come in and use Small Factory’s 3D printer to facilitate the printing part of the assembly of my 3D hand,” Matthew said.

Matthew’s journey into engineering did not start here however. Since he was a child, he was always interested in building things, from Legos to K’nex to erector sets. As he got older, he loved helping his dad with projects around the house, like assembling things from IKEA and even helping to build the shed in their backyard. But when he found out about the 3D printed mechanical arm, he knew he had to do it.

“I knew that building the arm would be a nice personal challenge to see if I could do it all by myself,” Matthew said.

He kicked his project into gear by first finding the files for the parts that he would need to print. Along with the 3D printed parts, there were other materials, such as screws and finishing line that he needed to purchase. Once the parts were printed, he sanded and filed them down so that they would move correctly. Things did not go smoothly though, as some parts ended up breaking in the process. Matthew realized, however, that although there was not much room for error, he is not perfect and this was his first time building something like this. Practice makes perfect.

After correcting his errors, he began assembling the pieces. Of course there were no instructions, so Matthew relied on YouTube videos to help him. As he continued, it became easier to assemble, but he reached an obstacle when a part that he needed was missing.

“I knew I’d have to improvise and I started thinking. I went to my dad’s workbench and started to think about what I could use to make it work and it hit me,” he said.

Despite some minor setbacks, Matthew persevered and did not let the adversities and obstacles get the best of him. The entire process of building his mechanical arm ended up taking about 22 hours in total, and aside for some help with the 3D printer from his mentor, Joe, Matthew had no help assembling the hand.

Although Matthew was driven by his passion for engineering and curiosity of 3D printing, it was the aspect of giving back that really inspired him.

“There is no better gift than the gift of helping someone in need,” he said. “This is rooted in me because of an experience I had as a child.”

When Matthew was just 5 years old, he was in a car accident that broke his neck. Doctors told his family that he should have been paralyzed, and it was a miracle that he lived and is able to move today. When he was recovering, he had to wear a bulky halo that was screwed around his head and secured by a vest that he wore around his torso.

“Knowing the pain and humiliating stares I got from strangers, and knowing that there was nothing I could do about it, I wanted to help a child in my position,” he said. “Making this hand has given me the same feeling because now a child does not have to get stared at or asked awkward questions by people who do not understand his/ her condition. I am very privileged, and it feels great to help someone who is not as fortunate as I have been. “

Matthew came to Small Factory primarily to build his mechanical arm, but because of his successes, he will now continue his journey and relationship by serving as a mentor to other children.

“I will be there when a child does not know what to do and I will help to show them the right direction, but still have them do it by themself,” he said.

Matthew finds it important to guide children rather than completing the task for them so that they can do it on their own. “I will be helping children build and create the same way my father helped me build when I was younger.”

Having Joe as mentor enabled Matthew to learn, gain confidence in what he was doing, and ultimately help someone else. Chris is also allowing and encouraging Matthew to make more hands to donate, and he has already started the computer work on the next one. He is hoping to donate many over the next year.

“I am very grateful that Chris, Joe and the entire Small Factory Productions team was so eager and helpful. Without them and their support I have no doubt in my mind that I would not have accomplished what I have and would not be capable of helping those in need, and for that I am forever appreciative.”