Feb. 25, 2016 | By Kira
A young man in Poland who suffers from limb paralysis in one of his hands has received a custom-made 3D printed assistive device that allows him to grab and lift objects and perform various physical activities once again. The orthosis was designed by Wroclaw University of Technology Biomedical Engineering student Eliza Wrobel, and consists of more than 70 individual 3D printed parts, including miniscule precision pins, all made with the Zmorph 2.0 S hybrid desktop 3D printer.
Though we often write about 3D printed prosthetics—artificial devices used to replace a missing body part—orthoses differ in that they are designed and fitted to an existing body part in order to either control alignment, correct a deformity, or, in this case, increase mobility and assist in rehabilitation. While pre-fabricated orthoses do exist, the majority of patients benefit from custom-made devices that are fitted to their individual limbs and for their individual needs. As with prosthetics and other medical devices, 3D printing technology allows for cost-effective design, prototyping, and production compared to more traditional manufacturing methods.
For the 33-year-old man in question, he required a functional device for his hand that would be lightweight yet durable enough to grab objects during his rehabilitation. In his current state, he was unable to pick up even the lightest of dumbbells or hold on to a table tennis paddle, preventing him from playing his favorite sport.
In order to design a functional assistive device tailored specifically to these needs, Wrobel, a Biomedical Engineering student under Dr. Bogdan Dybala, decided to reverse-engineer it. She began by making a ceramic cast of the patient’s hand. This cast was then 3D scanned using the ATOS II Triple Scanner available at Wroclaw University.
From this precise 3D model, Wrobel began to design various iterations of the device, keeping in mind at every step that no compromise could be made between functionality, strength and comfort. This proved to be quite a challenge: the orthosis had to be strong enough to support his weakened flesh and muscles, but, if it was too stiff, he wouldn’t be able to move his fingers and joints, defeating the whole purpose.
Wrobel’s novel and hybrid solution was to design a sturdy husk that would be closely fitted to the man’s wrist, as well as a series of joint-like structures to support each finger and the thumb. The entire device was then connected via a series of complex mechanisms, controlled by one large lever at the top of the husk: pressing the lever tightens the fingers’ grip, while pulling the lever back up releases them to a ‘resting’ state.
Once satisfied with the digital design, Wrobel imported the STL files to Zmorph’s Voxelizer 3D printing software, which was designed to support low-cost medical 3D printing. She then used the Polish-made ZMorph 2.0 S Hybrid desktop 3D printer (approx US$1,895) to 3D print nearly every single component using a single head 1.75mm extruder and ABS filament.
From a 3D printing point of view, what is most impressive about this device is that Wrobel was able to minimize the number of non-3D printed parts by utilizing the Zmorph 2.0 S Hybrid’s precision capabilities. Rather than using screws or glue to hold the parts together, which could have increased the weight or reduced mobility, she designed tiny, 3D printed pins to assemble the smaller components, while the main lever itself is connected with 3D printed latches. All that was added was a Velcro strap to comfortable attach everything to the patient’s hand.
In all, more than 70 3D printed parts were required, yet the result is a fully functional assistive device that has allowed the patient to regain functionality in his hand, and continue with his rehabilitation process. While the 3D printed version is still a prototype, the durability of the ABS filament used means that the man can actually wear it and use it for certain limited tasks until a final, stronger orthosis is made.
Desktop 3D printing enabled Wrobel to quickly move from design to fabrication to working prototype, all while minimizing the costs associated with traditional manufacturing, or even industrial 3D printing. In the future, she plans to continue improving on this idea, and potentially producing a range of inexpensive, custom-made 3D printed rehabilitation orthoses for patients suffering from paralysis.
Posted in 3D Printing Application
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Avinash Sonawane wrote at 3/3/2016 10:54:48 AM:
Dera Dr Wrobel, and Dr. Bogdan Dybala I would require orthoses for my 85 year old Uncle whose both hands ( wrist and fingers) rapidly vibrate. He is a paralysis patient. Due to this he cannot hold and grip anything. What will I require to send ? a video of his hand? He has sharp memory and talks very well. I would like to get associated with you and first get my uncle helped and then continue with more relatives and friends. I am an engineer in mechanical for 40 years and look forward to have a start up at Goa India with the printer installed either in collaboration/ join venture or whatever way is convenient to you. Avinash Sonawane Porvorim Goa India email: firstname.lastname@example.org, +919422438185