Jan 11, 2018 | By Julia

While the industry of 3D printed prosthetics continues to boom, less often do we hear of 3D printed devices assisting in an individual’s progress toward rehabilitation. In addition to outright replacing a missing limb, additive manufacturing technology can help patients who merely need a helping hand while they re-learn how to walk, exercise and maneuver the space around them. The distinction may be small for those who’ve never personally experienced a physical disability, but for many, it’s a world of difference.

For one young athlete in Barcelona, 3D printing has done just that by effectively facilitating the process to recovery. 16-year-old Pedro is a self-proclaimed sports aficionado who suffered a stroke in August of 2012. A left ganglia basal hemorrhage paralysed half of his body, setting the Catalonian athlete back in his physical abilities, but as it turned out, only temporarily. After a long, intensive period of rehabilitation, Pedro was able to recover a great deal of his mobility. The only exception was Pedro’s right hand, which continued to be affected by spasticity, a disorder of the central nervous system that affects the muscles, and can partially or completely hinder movement in the impacted muscle group.

By July 2016, Pedro was steadily forging ahead despite his initial setbacks. The young athlete successfully launched a new sports organization within the Club de Natació l’Hospitalet, an innovative swimming club with a new adapted swimming division. It was here that Pedro began working with coach Àlex Agut and swimming club president Jordi Lorca to find a solution for his spasticity, which caused difficulty in properly positioning his hand while swimming. Banning together, the three got in touch with prestigious post secondary institution Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC). Via the UPC’s CIM Foundation, an institute focused on technological advancement, Pedro’s query was put forward to the Master’s students in Design and Engineering for Product Development. Ultimately, up-and-coming students Marc Roca and Iñigo Martínez-Ayo were chosen to take up the challenge, and find a technical solution that would allow Pedro to continue swimming competitively.

In a matter of weeks, the pair had devised and implemented a simple yet ingenious answer: a 3D printed, personalized swimming fin that could easily strap onto Pedro’s right hand. While the final product was relatively straight forward, Marc and Iñigo made sure to leave as much room as possible for experimentation in their design process. Over the course of four weeks, the two students produced 10 different functional prototypes in various shapes, sizes, and materials, all keeping within their total budget of 100 €. Extensive testing revealed Nylon to be the best choice for their purposes, as a material commonly used in the 3D printing field for end-use parts such as fixtures. Marc and Iñigo opted to 3D print the Nylon fin using a BCN3D Sigma system, with the water soluble polymer PVA as a support material.

Since handing off the fin to Pedro, the extent of the positive results have surprised even the UPC students. Beyond getting back to his favourite sport with minimal delay, Pedro has benefitted in several additional ways. The 16-year-old has witnessed an considerable improvement in his body position while swimming, facilitating ameliorated stroke movements. He’s also noticed an increase in the musculature in his upper body. Perhaps most impressive though, is that due to his improved swimming position, Pedro has now been able to spend more time in the pool without getting tired - an advantage that has improved overall muscle tone throughout his body. Thanks to his success, Pedro can now keep up with the best of them, and continue to set his sights on reaching his next goal. Best of luck with your future swimming career, Pedro!



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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