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News and Events

Million Waves Project could soon produce 1,000 prosthetics a week

Oct 16, 2018, 08:46 by Gies College of Business

The Million Waves Project, founded by University of Illinois online MBA (iMBA) student Chris Moriarity, has gained international notoriety since it launched on Earth Day. Now the nonprofit, which transforms discarded ocean plastic into 3D-printed prosthetic hands for people around the world, is about to really take off.


Shell’s Puget Sound (Washington) Refinery recently presented the Million Waves Project with a $5,000 grant to buy a high-tech machine that turns plastic into filament that can be used to make prostheses. The machine will allow the Million Waves Project, which has received national and international media attention, plus celebrity endorsements from the likes of NBA player Kyle Korver, to monumentally increase its output of prosthetics.

The Million Waves Project also has partnered with e-Nable – an Oregon-based nonprofit that features a national group of 2,100 volunteers who produce 3D-printed hands and arms. Currently any e-Nable volunteer may request sponsorship of a limb assembly kit from the Million Waves Project, which sends volunteers the items needed to put the hands together (screws, straps, medical padding, etc.). Moriarity said as the Million Waves Project refines its filament and tests its reliability in different climates, the nonprofit will be able to provide any or all of the 2,100 e-Nable 3D printer locations with the recycled filament to use in the printing of the limbs. The Million Waves Project will also pilot the material in several e-Nable locations before opening it up to all locations. Within several months, Moriarity said the Million Waves Project will be able to produce as many as 1,000 prosthetics a week.

“It went from 1 to 5 to 16 to 20 to 25 hands, and now it’s as fast as the printers can print,” said Moriarity, a 38-year-old Anacortes, Washington resident who started the iMBA program in January—a few months before launching the Million Waves Project on April 18. “You should never underestimate what a small group of motivated people will do. We have the front row seats to the best side of humanity on display. Every time we open our inbox, we see emails from people who want to help. It’s changed my entire perspective on just about anything.”

Enrolling in Gies College of Business’ online MBA program, the iMBA, has helped Moriarity streamline the Million Waves Project since its start. Moriarity has never stepped foot onto the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus, but he feels part of the community through the iMBA program, which includes live video classes, especially microeconomics. He said the class helped him develop presentation graphics, predictive data for when he should purchase more technology, and current production capacity. Moriarity hopes to earn his MBA by December 2019.

Moriarity conceived the idea of the Million Waves Project overnight in April, and two weeks later, it debuted. At first, Moriarity, his wife Laura, and others cut up plastic bottles by hand and inserted them into a paper shredder; then a 3D printer creates the prosthetic limbs. Moriarity said about 40,000 children worldwide could use prosthetics created from 3D printers. Moriarity, who has three children under the age of 10, works about 100 hours a week over several jobs and travels about 100,000 miles a year. The Iowa native had been searching for a program like Illinois’ iMBA for “years and years and years,” and said he chose Gies’ because of its high ranking and because it conformed to his Midwest roots.

“Being part of the iMBA program has been huge for me and for the Million Waves Project,” said Moriarity, who has appeared numerous times on television wearing a University of Illinois T-shirt. “Every time I know something’s coming up, I have that shirt on standby,” Moriarity said, laughing.