Roane State OTA students use 3D printing technology to create adaptive devices

Tom McDunn watches as Roane State students Josh Palmer and Janel Hostetler use 3D printers at the community college’s Cumberland Business Incubator to create devices helpful to those with disabilities, injuries and impairments. (Photo: Roane State)

CROSSVILLE – It’s a merger of Roane State assets, combined with a businessman’s contributions that are yielding impressively creative and useful results.

Students in Roane State’s Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) program are using 3D printers at the community college’s Cumberland Business Incubator “Maker Space” to create implements for patients with physical challenges, injuries or disabilities.

Some of the students’ creations include assistive devices to help fit keys in doorknobs, levers on doorknobs to make them easier to open, cup holders on walkers, adaptive levers for wheelchair brakes and molded shoe funnels to help those with limited mobility.

This unique venture has evolved gradually and began several years ago. OTA Program Director Teri Gergen had attended a national conference about how simple low-tech devices of use in occupational therapy can be made with 3D printers.

Those printers use three-dimensional digital models to make objects by laying down successive thin layers of polymer filament. Examples Gergen saw at the conference were “often a bit pricey and not individualized,” she recalled.

Gergen became aware of the services offered by the Cumberland Business Incubator (CBI), located on the college’s Cumberland County campus. The CBI helps new startups by providing business coaching advice and leased space to launch their ventures.

Gergen met with Tom McDunn, whose company, TPM Technologies, occupies part of the CBI. McDunn offers classes in general technology education, 3D software design, 3D printing and social media marketing. He also maintains and repairs high-tech machines, including the 3D printers in the CBI Maker Space.

“I realized there was an opportunity, and the CBI could be a resource,” Gergen said. A three-hour workshop for all first-year OTA students to see how adaptive devices can be made was added to the OTA curriculum. McDunn volunteers his time to lead those workshops as the students visit the Maker Space on the Cumberland campus.

3D printers that middle school girls made during the CBI’s annual Verizon Innovative Learning STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) camps are put to use by OTA students.

Second-year OTA students are required to have 15 hours of community-based field work experience. Several have opted to expand their 3D software design and printing expertise to fulfill that requirement.

“We are just so fortunate to have this collaboration as a resource,” Gergen said.

“It’s a local business helping our OTA students to be creative and to think of solutions to the problems they see, learn about 3D design concepts and software, and help them to design and print something for patients,” said CBI Director Holly Hanson.

Roane State is a two-year college providing transfer programs, career-preparation programs and continuing education. Founded in 1971, the college has locations in Roane, Campbell, Cumberland, Fentress, Knox, Loudon, Morgan and Scott counties as well as a branch campus in Oak Ridge. For more information, visit or call (865) 882-4554.

Remember, eligible adults can now attend Roane State tuition-free with the new Reconnect grant. Learn more at

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