Dec 18, 2018 | By Cameron

A father started prosthetics company Ambionics after designing a hydraulic 3D-printed arm for his two-year old son. Prosthetics serve as an example of an industry that’s been totally turned on its head thanks to the explosion of affordable 3D printing options. Years ago, patients had only the option of going to their doctor-approved orthopedist, who would take a measurement or two and order a premade, mass-manufactured contraption full of nuts and bolts that would fit uncomfortably if it fit at all. Cloth padding would help some, but ultimately the prosthetic was not made for the patient. Now, a slew of 3D-printable prosthetics are available for individuals and physical therapists to print, and some models are available at no cost through organizations like e-NABLE and Makers Making Change.

Ben Ryan and his wife Kate’s son Sol suffered a birth-related injury that resulted in his left arm being amputated below the elbow. They were informed that Sol would have to be a year old before the NHS would cover the cost of a prosthetic, but his parents noticed as early as five weeks that Sol was not using his left arm. Ben’s career as a psychology lecturer lent him the understanding necessary to see that his son needed to work both the muscles of the arm and of the mind to avoid functional loss of the arm, so he rigged a kitchen sponge that would approximate the length of his son’s arm and attached it to Sol’s limb. Within minutes, Sol was using the new sponge-arm to interact with the world, poking and pushing objects.

Later, Ben added velcro to the end so Sol could grab toys and pull them toward himself. Ben then began teaching himself 3D modeling to create a legitimate prosthetic for his son. The technology used in modern prosthetics doesn’t work well with very young children, as Ben relates, “The current options for babies and toddlers who have lost limbs are really not optimal. The technology relies on sensors that are not suitable for people under three or four years. In addition, many prosthetics are not aesthetically appealing at all. My goal is to help Ambionics children around the world use prosthetics and use them into adulthood. The fact that they work safely and do not contain any small parts or batteries is the key to using them at the earliest possible age."

To create a safe, battery-free prosthetic, Ben found inspiration in the spider, which uses fluidic pressure to move its legs. He used Autodesk modeling software to design the hydraulic arm and then printed the pieces on a desktop 3D printer. Sol is old enough now to say “arm” when he sees his father tweaking the model on the computer screen, and hel will have the unique experience of growing up with a more fluid conceptualization of what an arm is: a limb that may or may not have come out of a machine.

A collaboration with RS Components has allowed Ben to run many trials of Ambionics prosthetics on individuals from around the world by working with 3D scans of their limbs. Alison Hutchings, Assistant Global Manager of 3D Printing at RS, stated, "I saw the moving and heartwarming story of Ben Ryan on television news and thought there could be a way RS could help. We contacted Ben Ryan on LinkedIn and built a relationship with him. His mission and bold vision inspired us. Above all, that it was someone with no prior knowledge in the development or relevant background in construction, spoke to us. So we decided to support Ambionics. By providing the 3D print filament, Ryan can concentrate fully on the beta test without being constrained by production costs.”

The accessibility of 3D printing is such that a psychology professor with zero experience in 3D modeling or additive manufacturing could teach himself the modeling and slicing software, in only a matter of months, well enough to 3D print a custom-fit hydraulic arm for his toddler son. That’s pretty accessible.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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