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Mat Bowtell

Industrial engineer

Industrial engineer Mat Bowtell is using his engineering skills to help others.

Mat Bowtell kickstarted his engineering career making cars, landing a dream job at automotive giant Toyota as an engineer in their operations department. His ‘thing’ was lean manufacturing – simplifying processes, reducing waste and improving quality – which led to a stint in Japan in 2009 to learn directly from the company’s Motomachi Plant team.

For the next three years Mat championed the use of sophisticated 3D-printing techniques back home, until Toyota’s Altona factory closed in 2017, leaving him out of work – but staring down the barrel of an exciting new pathway.

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“I really wanted to focus on maintaining a positive mindset and trying to find a way that I could use my engineering skills to help others,” said the 2018 Victorian Local Hero [Australian of the Year awards]. “I’m grateful I had the opportunity through Toyota to find my true passion as an engineer.”

With an impressive CV in auto engineering and experience in implementing lower-cost production solutions, Mat set up a workshop in his suburban garage for his own project – 3D-printed hands.

Helping hand

Using a mix of 3D-printing technologies and advanced bionics, Mat’s backyard-startup-turned- internationally-recognised-charity, creates prosthetic hands for those born with cognitive limb differences, and gifts them to those in need.

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“We send our 3D-printed hands to people all over the world completely free of charge, we even pay the postage,” he says. “People born without arms or hands shouldn’t have to pay even one cent for something that’ll improve their quality of life.”

While the limbs typically take around 15 hours to print, by spreading the components across three machines, Mat has cut the production time of each down to just five hours – a skill carried over from his time at Toyota.

Aside from being supported by crowdfunding and donations, in 2018 Mat was among nine Australians to receive a Westpac Social Change Fellowship, valued at $50,000. As part of the fellowship, he went overseas to meet with prosthetic and bionic innovators and has since returned home, pumped to work on his most ambitious project to date – a low-cost bionic arm.

Mat’s study and career pathway

This article originally appears in Careers with STEM: Engineering 2020.
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