Oct 19, 2015 | By Alec

3D printing technology has done much for people suffering from limb dehabilitations, as a web filled with 3D printed prosthetics proves. However, a team of engineers from the Australian Curtin University have now come up with another ingenious innovation that helps people recovering from significant hand trauma. In traditional medical procedures, a patients digits are immobilised while healing, and require a lengthy rehabilitation process to get everything back to normal again. However, with this 3D printed Assisted Finger Orthosis, developed by mechanical engineering lecturer dr. Lei Cui and graduate student Anthony Phan, the motorised exoskeleton significantly simplifies that rehabilitation process.

Dr. Lei Cui, who led the project, has an extensive background in robotic dexterous manipulation, and previously worked on robotic hands at King’s College London. Currently focused on robot-assisted rehabilitation and biomimicry, the idea for the Assisted Finger Orthosis came about when meeting with famous performance artist Professor Stelarc, who has an interesting in medical applications of 3D printing. Together with graduate student Anthony Phan, who worked on this project as part of his thesis, this fascinating hand prosthetic was born. The team further included student Otto Seyfarth, Dean Research and Graduate Studies Health Sciences Professor Garry Allison, occupational therapy clinical/professional fellow David Parsons and Professor Stelarc from the Alternate Anatomies Laboratory at Curtin University.

Photos: Curtin University

As Cui explains, their goal was to develop a robotic solution for hand trauma habilitation, and the Assisted Finger Orthosis has been remarkably successful at it. If you’ve ever seriously harmed a finger, you’ll know that the healing process can be slow and usually relies on immobilizing the finger in question. Using this inexpensive 3D printing solution, customized and motorized exoskeletons can now be used to greatly improve and simplify the rehabilitation process that follows, while also cutting down the number of necessary doctor appointments. ‘Robotic exoskeletons can protect a patient’s tendons while minimising the risk of complications after hand tendon surgery,” Dr Cui said. ‘A tailor made exoskeleton that fits an individual’s hand perfectly will define the future of hand rehabilitation.’

As Cui explains, 3D printing was key in this innovation. ‘We wanted to use 3D printing technology to print the articulated linkage of the device in one piece, with no assembly work needed,’ he says. Each finger requires eight rigid parts, held together with some pins. Whats more, with the help of 48 parameters, each Orthosis can be made to be custom fitting. Small linear motors are then installed to move the fingers around, which can even be programmed beforehand. ‘For instance, the physiotherapist could remotely set the parameters [for finger movement], the range of motions and the frequency,’ the engineer adds.

But perhaps most remarkable is how cheaply these exoskeletons are. ‘For each individual finger, the total cost is about $100, it’s very affordable,’ Dr Cui says. ‘It would have been very expensive if we had to use traditional manufacturing.’

The complete and very impressive picture interested a lot of people at the recent Curtin Commercial Innovation awards too, where the Assisted Finger Orthosis won the $15,000 first prize as well as valuable assistance during the commercialization process. These awards were established in 2007 with an eye on commercializing the innovations coming out of Curtin university. ‘The research recognised by today’s awards demonstrates a growing recognition of Curtin as a quality research institution through our constant improvement in global university rankings,” Director Rohan McDougall said.

With this help, Cui is currently looking into options for taking the Assisted Finger Orthosis into commercial production, meaning we might all benefit from this exciting innovation in the near future. ‘We would like to apply for funding for ARC or NHMRC to further develop the exoskeleton,’ Cui says. ‘In the meantime, we are also looking for some investors to help commercialise it.’



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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