Virtual ExperienceMarch 1, 2022

Free 3D Hands – Improving Quality of Life Through Low-Cost Assistive Devices Designed Using Dassault Systèmes SOLIDWORKS

Free 3D Hands, a registered charity in Australia, designs and manufactures low-cost…
Avatar Pallavi Misra


Designing high quality, low-cost assistive technology that can be shared across the world.


Using Dassault Systèmes SOLIDWORKS licenses to create open-source designs that can be used by anyone.


  • Increased assistive device design quality
  • Decreased development and prototype lead time
  • Fostered a collaborative community to constantly improve designs
  • Improved intuitive and seamless workflow
  • Allowed assistive devices to reach more people who need them

WHO estimates that, of the 1 billion people who require some form of assistive technology, only 10% are able to access what they need. High costs and a lack of workforce are the main reasons 900 million people are locked out of access to these life-changing devices.

Free 3D Hands, a registered charity in Australia, designs and manufactures low-cost 3D-printed hands and assistive devices for anyone around the world that can benefit from them. Their device designs are provided completely free of charge with the belief that every single person on the planet deserves access to technology that will improve their quality of life.

Founder and Director Mat Bowtell said that Free 3D Hands releases all its designs under open-source licenses and shares all of the team’s learnings and IP in the form of very detailed instructions so others can replicate what they do.

“We do this so others can improve upon our designs with the ultimate goal of making assistive technology available to every person on the planet,” said Mat.

According to Mat, while other organisations around the world also manufacture assistive devices, many of these designs are being developed with very basic CAD software.

When Free 3D Hands gained access to Dassault Systèmes SOLIDWORKS, they found that designs developed through the software resulted in higher quality devices and an increase in the number of people these devices can reach.

“We now have organisations all around the world who download and manufacture our designs,” said Mat.

“Realistically, we can help thousands to tens of thousands of people on our own, but to reach the millions of people who need assistive devices we need to take a collaborative approach, so by open sourcing our designs we can achieve that.”

Here we have Alecia, Leah and Zac (from left to right) using their 3D printed hands from Free 3D Hands. Free 3D Hands provides low-cost 3D printed hands and assistive devices to those who otherwise cannot access or afford them…for free!

Improved intuitively and seamless workflow

Having access to Dassault Systèmes SOLIDWORKS has also allowed new opportunities for creativity not previously accessible through other 3D CAD packages.

“Once I discovered this software, it opened up a whole new world as many of the tools can be learnt intuitively without formal training,” Mat said. “Our ability to design is only limited by our own imagination and one thing I love about Dassault Systèmes SOLIDWORKS is the ability to run add-ins.”

Operations Manager Peta Strachan said the team at Free 3D Hands is able to take 3D scans of recipients’ residual limbs and design very organic shapes within the software’s environment using the standard tools, which has allowed them to have a seamless workflow.

“We are able to access the incredible amount of resources available to enable us to continuously improve our designs,” said Peta. “It’s fantastic.”

Decreased development and prototype lead time

The new low-cost bionic arm Free 3D Hands is currently developing is equivalent to a AUD$60,000 arm, but the team are able to manufacture it for less than AUD$100 in parts.

“Dassault Systèmes SOLIDWORKS allows us to simulate the function of our design before we even 3D print a prototype,” explains Mat. “Complex designs can be modified very quickly and easily, allowing us to test multiple design iterations within hours.”

The team is able to constantly improve its designs through a continuous improvement mindset, with the ability to simulate those improvements in Dassault Systèmes SOLIDWORKS saving them a lot of time.

They have also benefited from in-house 3D printing, meaning they are able to make design iterations on the fly and test their latest prototypes within the same day, reducing their development lead time significantly.

“Compared to traditional manufacturing, which could take months to modify a design and prototype, with our current technologies we can do it within hours,” said Mat.

“Having Dassault Systèmes SOLIDWORKS at Free 3D Hands enables us to quickly make specific changes for others who do not have our design capability. It’s unrealistic to expect the thousands of people globally who now make assistive devices to each have access to very powerful tools like this software.”

The team at Free 3D Hands has realised over the years that in order to meet the needs of people around the world who need an assistive device, it needed to position itself as a hub that not only shares designs and technology but also manufactures.

“Our key metric is not dollars; it’s about being able to develop and prototype with the shortest lead time possible,” Peta adds. “Being able to do this within hours instead of weeks or months is most important to us. We get requests from other organisations around the world who have a recipient with a specific hand difference and we can quickly modify our design and send it to them to 3D print for that recipient.”

Collaboration for good

This achievement was the result of a collaborative effort between Dassault Systèmes, Free 3D Hands and Invenio, a business solutions provider and Dassault Partner in Australia and New Zealand.

“Invenio recommended that we consider Dassault Systèmes SOLIDWORKS applications, and with their help we were able to secure a sponsorship. As a result, we are now able to use this powerful software at Free 3D Hands,” Mat adds.

Peta said the team deeply appreciated Invenio’s role in the collaboration.

“We have made some rookie errors in the past, so having Invenio assist us in acquiring licenses to use Dassault Systèmes SOLIDWORKS, plus providing local support if we ran into any problems, is fantastic. We were proud to have the Invenio team visit our factory on opening day,” said Peta.

According to Mat, the team at Free 3D Hands doesn’t feel it ‘owns’ the Dassault Systèmes SOLIDWORKS licenses that we have been provided.

“They belong to the people, and we openly share all of the benefits that come from these licenses,” said Mat.

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