They say necessity is the mother of invention. In Mike Brunett’s case, necessity came in the form of shaggy facial hair.

Here’s how it started: One of Brunett’s coworkers in the UCF Office of Instructional Resources had repeatedly been forced to shave off his beard because of trimming mishaps that left it embarrassingly lopsided. Brunett grabbed a piece of cardboard and cut out a guide his coworker could use while shaving.

But what about others living with the shame of messed up mustaches and goofy goatees?

Thus was born the “Beard Bro,” a beard-shaping tool whose prototype was developed on the same 3-D printer that University of Central Florida engineering students have been using to create bionic prosthetic arms for children.

“Once you start using it, you don’t want to touch your beard without it,” said Brunett, a burly former Marine with a thick beard of his own.

The Beard Bro is a boomerang-shaped tool with a curved edge that can be used as a guide to make sure your beard’s top line and neck line are perfectly symmetrical on each side of your face. It has a built-in comb that can be used with a razor or clippers to achieve the perfect length and shape.

The 3-D printer in the UCF College of Engineering and Computer Science’s Manufacturing Lab proved indispensable in transforming Brunett’s vision into physical form. There are other printers in the Orlando area, but few come with the expertise that was honed by fine-tuning bionic hands for children.

“It’s been great working with them. They’ve got a lot of experience,” Brunett said. “For anyone starting out without a lot of money, it’s an amazing resource.”

The availability of the 3-D printer allowed Brunett to make modifications on the fly.

“Once you get it in your hand, you see the dimensions and figure out whether it’s going to work or if it needs to be changed,” said Tim Lindner, who runs the lab. “He probably printed 10 prototypes before he got it the way he wanted it.”

The Beard Bro is the first product that started on the lab’s 3-D printer to move into commercial production. A factory in Michigan has begun churning out the first lot of 5,000.

Brunett is ready to start selling them on – along with Beard Bro T-shirts and mugs – and hopes to soon have them on the shelves of brick-and-mortar retailers.