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.
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