Sep 14, 2016 | By Tess

As the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games are well under way, there is no denying what a significant role 3D printing has played for many of the athletes, offering support and assistive solutions where they are needed. Within the sport of Wheelchair Fencing, for instance, Polina Rozkova, a member of the Latvian Paralympic team, was wearing a custom-fitted 3D printed back brace for her duels in the women’s Pool Rounds which ended yesterday.

Rozkova, who is currently ranked #8 in the Épée Women Category A world ranking (but unfortunately did not win any medals for the 2016 Women's Individual Épée Paralympics), struggled for a long time to find a suitable solution to her back problem while fencing in a wheelchair. That’s why, in preparation for the 2016 Paralympics, the athlete set out to find a fitting, effective, and comfortable brace that would not hinder her movements while fencing.

The ultimate solution came about when Rozkova got in contact with Baltic3D, a Latvian reseller of Stratasys 3D printing equipment, which suggested making her a lightweight and custom fitted back brace using 3D scanning and printing technologies. As you can imagine, the project got quickly underway.

To make the brace, the team at Baltic3D first took a 3D scan of Rozkova’s lower back, which they used to digitally model a custom fitted brace for her using WiDE software. The brace was not only custom fitted but was made to support and fit the geometry of her middle spine, an area typically strained in traditional back braces, especially while doing physical activities such as wheelchair fencing.

To make the brace lightweight and comfortable, but still strong, the design team opted to 3D print the brace out of Stratasys’ Nylon 12 3D printing material, known for its fatigue resistance and overall toughness, and used Stratasys’ Fortus 450mc Production 3D printer to manufacture it. Because the printing process itself only took a matter of hours to complete, Baltic3D was able to 3D print a number of versions and iterations of the brace for Rozkova to try in order to find the perfect fit.

As the athlete explains, the 3D printed back-brace has been somewhat of a godsend. She says: “Throughout my years as a professional wheelchair fencer, I have been looking for an alternative, and most importantly, sports-appropriate lower back brace to allow me to fence and move freely without any restraints or pain… I'm ecstatic with the result - not only is the 3D printed back brace visually appealing, but it gives me a level of freedom unparalleled to anything I have ever used before. I feel better equipped than ever to achieve my goals."

The 3D printed back brace has proven to be a huge improvement over the athlete’s previous braces, which did not fit her as well and caused discomfort and even formed bruises on her body. And though the athlete will not be taking home any gold this Paralympic season, we can imagine the new 3D printed customized brace will help her to better her game and her spirit.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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