By Cally Brooks and Will Lailey
A man who was born with only one arm has beaten all the odds to launch his own 3D design company – where he draws and creates a variety of different products using his bionic arm.
Dan Melville, 27, was born without a right hand and had struggled to draw since he was a child.
But when he managed to get a new bionic arm in 2015, he discovered a new talent for artistic design when his friend asked him to draw a picture of her and she liked it so much that she offered him some money for it. That’s when Dan realised he could turn this into a career.
Dan bought his first 3D printer for £1500 and started drawing up some designs for family and friends. Eventually, Dan went on to earn commissions for his designs and so his business began.
He set up a printing company where all the designs were drawn by him – and within a year, he was able to quit his job as a retail assistant to pursue his dreams as his business began earning enough commission to be taken on as a full-time career.
Dan, from Reading, regularly runs workshops showcasing his design skills to children and often works on commissions for a number of different clients.
He said: “Before becoming a designer, I just worked in retail and I never thought the time would come where I could actually use my college qualification in design. The bionic arm is definitely the push I needed to go into design because I wanted to be able to create something that incredible and life-changing”.
Dan studied design in college but only began drawing again when he was given his new bionic arm.
The arm – designed by revolutionary firm Open Bionics – uses pulses in Dan’s muscles to determine whether he wants to open or close his hand.
There is a button on the hand that changes the grip pattern, which can help with picking up the most delicate items to much bigger and heavier objects.
Dan said: “The first year of starting my business was a quiet one but then it began to pick up and by the second year, I had quit my job working in retail.
“I use my bionic arm to draw and it took a while for me to get the hang of it because you can’t actually feel the pen in your hand or your hand at all but you learn how to do it and sometimes it turns out great, sometimes it turns out not so great- it’s just about practice.
Dan has created a whole range of designs including ornaments, stationary, vases and even skulls.
“It has definitely changed my life for the better. I’m now doing something I love and that’s the best part”.
In 2014, Dan became an ambassador for ‘Open Bionics’- a UK company that builds low-cost bionic arms for people with disabilities.
The company only began selling to the general public in 2018, once the prototypes had been tested by Dan, whose girlfriend pushed him to reach out to the company five years ago in the hope of becoming a ‘tester’.
Open Bionics inspired Dan to buy his first 3D printer and start his business.
“I had been saving up for a while to buy the printer and I got my first one for about £1500.
“That was a lot of money for me to be spending but it was something I really wanted to do.
“They really inspired me. The bionic arm was so incredible and I just thought, wow, I could do that.”
Dan can’t feel the pen when he is drawing, but he is able to control it though the grip pads and his muscles.
“It definitely takes practice. I had never really drawn before but a friend of mine asked me to draw a picture of her using the bionic arm and she really liked it, so much so that she wanted to pay me for it. That’s when I realised I could earn some money out of this.
“Not being able to feel the pen makes it much, much harder.
“I don’t think people realise how difficult it is.”
Dan has had commissions for a variety of items including ornaments, vases and more and he goes to schools to run workshops with the children.
“I love working with the children- they’re always so fascinated by my arm and the 3D printer.
“It’s something that I want to do more of but I try to run a workshop at least once a month.
“I love the teaching aspect of it and definitely want to do more”.
The Prince’s Trust helped Dan to get his foot on the ladder by offering him expert advice about starting a business from scratch.
Since opening in 2015, Dan’s business has taken off and it’s now his full time job.