Jan.29, 2014

Bionic legs have gotten smarter and smarter thanks to advanced technology. Dr. Kee Moon and Jeremiah Cox at Mechanical Engineering San Diego State University are currently developing 3D printed physical therapy devices that are designed to help the body conform to the way it moved before an accident. Instead of rigidly controlling the body – their device nudges and jump starts the body into a more natural physical movement pattern.

In the future the bionic leg will be integrated with brain functions to take advantage of former muscle memory. This will make it easier for patients to regain their previous, natural manners of movement.

3D printing technology is crucial for creating their devices explains Dr. Kee Moon, Professor of Mechanical Engineering San Diego State University (SDSU) Deputy Director of NSF Sensorimotor Neural Engineering Center.

Machining is a difficult process, and Dr. Kee Moon relies on 3D printing to achieve the intricate designs involved in replicating human limbs. For example, 3D printed brackets are an affordable, lightweight solution to the bionic leg.

"There are some places we can go really quick," says Dr. Moon. "But there are some areas where we really need help from the professional and 3D Printing is one of those areas." Dr. Moon's bionic leg device is rapidly evolving with each iteration, becoming smarter and leaner. For the iteration shown in the video, they were looking for hardy brackets that would perform as well as a machined part but remain lightweight. Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), perhaps the most commonly known 3D Printing process, is the manufacturing process they use the most in lab at SDSU. For the brackets, they needed something a bit smoother than what they were typically producing, so they used an outside service provider called Solid Concepts; the company was able to deliver a better surface finish and tighter layer bonding for a sturdier component.

3D Printing is being used for the bionic leg to speed up prototyping so that the leg can be readily available for initial testing with patients as soon as possible. Rather than having to machine each new iteration, Cox can design the component he needs in 3D CAD and print it out. The ability of 3D Printing to more easily conform to organic or complicated shapes has been a boon to their projects across the board.

3D printing allows the doctors to move quickly from fitting a patient with a therapy device to delivering the device which may be used to help many people with rehabilitation – such as people with muscular disorders or diseases and victims of accidents.

Dr. Kee Moon hopes that their devices which are being developed using 3D printing will soon be used in clinical settings.

Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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