Local Minot girl creates 3D printed prosthetic hands

I just knew I was good at 3D printing, and I wanted to do something that I could help other people with. A lot of people lose their limbs and it is really …

Affordable 3D printed hands could soon provide temperature and pressure feedback thanks to MIT …

Sep 5, 2016 | By Benedict

The Technology Office Innovation Laboratory (TOIL) at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory is improving 3D printed hand technology by studying finger motion mechanics, adding non-electronic temperature and tactile feedback, and incorporating motors. The research will be used by e-NABLE and similar groups.

The e-NABLE Flexy 3D printed hand

International 3D printed hand community e-NABLE has grown rapidly over the last few years. The organization, created in 2011 by husband-and-wife team Ivan and Jen Owen, is now something of a global 3D printing phenomenon after scores of its volunteers successfully lent “a helping hand” to limb-different children around the world by printing cheap, functional robotic hands. To date, the entire project has mostly focused around a handful of core designs which can be printed and assembled for around $50, though many volunteers have adapted the design for specific recipients and purposes. Now, in a bid to increase the quality of affordable, mass-producible prostheses, a group of experts at TOIL, part of MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, is looking to get behind the project by developing new technologies before passing on its findings to e-NABLE and other nonprofit groups.

Although the process of building a 3D printed hand is relatively simple—hence the huge number of volunteers carrying out such work for e-NABLE and similar organizations like the Wounded Warrior Project—the process of designing a functional 3D printed hand can be much more difficult. David Scott, manager of TOIL, is therefore leading a group of researchers (Naomi Hachen, Luke Johnson, Keri Mroszczyk, and Samuel VanNoy) on a mission to improve the popular free-to-download hand designs currently available on the internet.

TOIL researcher Naomi Hachen

To get acquainted with the 3D printed prostheses available through e-NABLE, the team downloaded, printed, and assembled a number of models. Most were 3D printed in PLA, as recommended, before being assembled. For most models, the assembly process involved connecting fingers to a tensioner block, which is positioned on the back of the wrist via strings woven through holes in the plastic and tied to individual pins. The tensioner block anchors the elastic strings, which a user can stretch by bending their wrist, a movement which creates tension and causes the fingers to “grip.”

The TOIL team found that current 3D printed hand designs have certain limitations. Obstructing one finger, for example, causes all fingers to become immobile, which limits grip. Lack of proper grip can, for many reasons, be problematic, so the researchers looked to come up with new designs in which each finger would act independently, contributing to improved grip and flexibility. Their solution? A “whippletree,” a clever structure consisting of a central joint connected to several linkages. When one link of the whippletree is obstructed, the central joint pivots to distribute force evenly through each linkage. One e-NABLE design actually implemented a whippletree, but without connecting the thumb. TOIL went a step further, creating a five-finger whippletree that enables each digit to move independently, letting users firmly grip objects of virtually any shape.

TOIL’s whippletree

Scott and his team have also found other ways to improve common 3D printed hand designs. For example, they have been able to add passive temperature feedback to the design by adding a color-changing, heat-reactive filament to the plastic. The thermochromic material changes color immediately when heat is applied to its surface, letting users “feel” the heat of their surroundings more fully. “It’s important for users to know whether or not a surface is hot,” said VanNoy. “If the users detect heat, they can potentially prevent personal injury and hand damage, such as melting.”

Although not yet dully developed, the TOIL team is also creating a tactile feedback component that could allow users to feel pressure. The clever component uses flexible tubing running from the fingertip to the forearm, with small sets of pockets at each end and resting on the user’s arm. The tubes will be filled with an as-yet-undecided fluid, which will be squeezed from the 3D printed fingertips to the skin of the user’s arm when pressure is applied. The degree of fluid pressure on the arm will let the user know how hard they are squeezing.

While Hachen, Mroszczyk, and VanNoy have spent most of their time looking to optimize e-NABLE 3D printed hands, Johnson has also spent some time creating more robust designs which use motorized parts. These prostheses, which can be scaled for those without a wrist to those without an entire arm, are being built especially for members of the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit for war veterans. Using 3D printed gears, motors, and an Arduino, Johnson was able to create a 3D printed arm which can be controlled via attached muscle sensors.

Luke Johnson’s motorized 3D printed arm with e-NABLE Flexy hand

On Johnson’s 3D printed arm, which costs around $350 to build and is compatible with an e-NABLE hand, each muscle sensor is connected to an individual input pin on the Arduino, which then signals the motor on the arm to act accordingly. “Different sensors can be programmed to different muscles,” Johnson said. “For example, if the user flexes her chest muscle, that movement could signal the motor to bend the elbow. If the user flexes her back, the hand could form a grip.” The motors used in the arm can lift 25 pounds, but the team is currently testing the weight-lifting capabilities of the 3D printed plastic parts.

The TOIL team will continue with its research over the next few months, after which it will send its finished designs to e-NABLE and the Wounded Warriors Project. “When I saw the existing e-NABLE hands, I knew that they could be better,” Johnson said. “Since starting this project, I have gained an array of knowledge from circuitry to engineering. But the most important part of this project is helping people. That knowledge is heartwarming.”

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Prosthetic hands, robots … and who knows what?

ASHEBORO — Call it The Case For The 3D Printer.

A couple of weeks before school started this year, Casey Harris was attending a charter school conference in Durham when he came across a 3D printer in one of the displays.

The man manning the booth demonstrated the machine by printing a replica of an inner ear.

3D printing produces three-dimensional solid objects from a digital file by printing, or laying down, successive layers of material until an object is complete.

“When I saw what it actually did,” Harris said in an interview last week, “I said, ‘Wow, this could be special. We’ve got to get one of these things in the school. This could be a game-changer.’ ”

Harris is the principal of the Uwharrie Charter Academy Middle Grades at 301 Lewallen St. in Asheboro.

The middle school is an expansion of Uwharrie Charter Academy (UCA). It welcomed its first students in August in the former Klaussner showroom that originally housed Uwharrie Charter’s high school. The high school moved to a new building this school year at 5326 U.S. 220 Business South, Asheboro.

‘It helps people’

Earlier this week, Uwharrie Charter’s rolls listed 308 students in grades 6-8.

One of them is eighth-grader Chase Azelton.

Not long after school started, Harris learned that Azelton, who is 13, had a burning desire to get access to a 3D printer, so he could join volunteers from around the globe in a project called e-NABLE.

According to its website, the e-NABLE community and the “3d Mechanical Hand – Maker Movement” was inspired by two strangers (a prop maker from the United States and a carpenter from South Africa) who came together from 10,000 miles apart to create a prosthetic hand device for a small child in South Africa. Then they gave the plans away so that those in need of the device could make it for themselves or have someone make it for them.

The effort has grown into “a worldwide movement of tinkerers, engineers, 3D print enthusiasts, occupational therapists, university professors, designers, parents, families, artists, students, teachers and people who just want to make a difference.”

The growing group numbers more than 3,600 members who create and share open source designs for mechanical hand assistive devices that can be downloaded and 3D-printed for less than $50 in materials.

Anyone, anywhere, can download and create these hands for people.

Young Azelton said he utilized computer-aided design (CAD) to print a small object for the first time a couple of years ago.

“It was very interesting,” he said. “That just started everything really.”

When he came across the work of e-NABLE, he liked the idea of getting involved.

“It helps people,” he said. “That’s reason enough for me.”

Printing robots and more

If the school secures a 3D printer, Harris said, Azelton could pursue his good Samaritan project, and the technology would open up a world of possibilities for the other 307 students, too.

The school offers core courses (math, science and language arts ) along with electives. For an hour four days a week, students focus their attention on a wide-ranging array of STEAM classes. STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.

Those classes include Robotics; Digging DaVinci; Conservation/Hunter Safety; Project Lead The Way; Homesteading; P.E.A.K (Practicing Exploring Agricultural Knowledge); MakerSpace; Journalism; CrossFit; Mythbusters; and Music/Garage Band.

Harris said he sees potential uses for a 3D printer everywhere he turns at the school. Topping the list of likely candidates might be the Robotics class, where students build and program miniature robots from kits. With a 3D printer, they could produce their own parts.

“We could pretty much use it on a daily basis here,” Harris said. “All of our classes are hands-on. We’re kind of hanging our hat on the whole experiential thing.”

Harris envisions a technology lab to house the 3D printer (and who knows what else in the future?) in a portion of what is now the school’s multipurpose room. It would be easy to put up partitions to build a room.

Finding the funds

The temporary holdup is finding the money to pay for the project. The printer itself would cost several thousand dollars.

Chase’s mother, Aundrea Azelton, is a major with the Randolph County Sheriff’s Office. She is not shy about raising money for something important — like a 3D printer for Uwharrie Charter, said Chase’s father, Chris, who is a state trooper. She has already talked with officials at a local manufacturing company.

“We see it as a way for them to invest in their future job force,” Harris said.

Like Azelton, Faith Blevins, another Uwharrie Charter eighth-grader, is no stranger to 3D printers. There are three at her house. “My family is very up-to-date and ‘in’ with the new technologies,” she said.

Blevins recently printed a scale model of the Roman Coliseum for her social studies class. She also printed a brain for anatomy class. Blevins said she thinks ia 3D printer would be a fine addition to UCA’s technological tool kit.

“They’re really cool to mess with,” she said. “When we first got it, we messed with it for a month or a month and a half. We calmed down.”

In addition to printing parts for prosthetic limbs, Azelton sees using the 3D printer to replicate itself.

“We may actually use that to build some of the less complex parts for another one,” he said.

Azelton also likes to build computers.

He was 10 or 11 when he built the one he uses at home — and he has submitted a proposal to his principal, complete with parts list and prices, to fashion a computer for the school to use with a 3D printer.

* * *

Uwharrie Charter Academy is a tuition-free public school. Any student qualified to attend a public school in North Carolina is qualified for admission (although there is a limit to the number of students in each grade). For more information, contact Uwharrie Charter Academy Middle Grades at (336) 610-0816.

3D printed heart helps facilitate successful surgery; holding his heart in his hands is 'amazing', says …

Oct 3, 2015 | By Benedict

The last few weeks have seen 3D printers used to inspire a whole host of medical research developments. Yesterday, we saw how Prashant Kumpta and his team at the University of Pittsburgh developed a new, 3D-printed treatment for broken bones. Before that, Scientists from the University of Akron and University of Texas unveiled their pain-free, 3D micro-printed needles. Today sees news of a man from Zeeland, Michigan, whose defective heart was successfully operated upon by surgeons with the help of additive manufacturing technology. Thanks to a 3D-printed model of the muscular organ, surgeons were able to closely examine a replica of Nicholas Borgman’s heart, which provided them with further information and greater familiarity with its physiological defects. 

Patient Nicholas Borgman (left) is shown his 3D-printed heart by Dr. Joseph Vettukattil

The 3D-printed model, assembled at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, perfectly matched the shape and contours, internal and external, of Borgman’s heart prior to surgery. Printed in a rubber-like material called Tango Plusflx930, the model is not the first 3D-printed heart to be made, but it is innovative and unique for two reasons:

The first unprecedented feature of this particular 3D-printed heart relates to the imaging techniques used. 3D-printed models of hearts and other organs have, until now, been created using either CT or MRI scans. Dr Joseph Vettukattil, an interventional cardiologist and congenital heart specialist, explains that Borgman’s replica heart is the first to be made using a combination of MRI and 3D echocardiogram techniques. Using a combination of the two techniques provides a huge advantage for doctors, and the method looks as though it will rise in popularity henceforth. The combination is effective because the use of MRI scans produces the most accurate depictions of the interior and muscular tissue of the heart, whilst the echocardiogram is a more effective way of seeing the anatomy of the heart’s valves. 

Borgman, his mother Vicki, and Vettukattil

The second significant historical factor of the operation is its being the hospital’s first case of a 3D-printed model being created prior to the actual surgery. This, and the ability to have a model of the organ at all, offers a huge advantage to surgeons: “A surgeon cannot cut the heart out and look at it. You want to have respect for the heart and cause minimum disturbance and disruption,” explained Vettukattil. “The surgeon won’t see the back or side because the lungs and other organs are covering it.”

Having a 3D-printed model of Borgman’s heart allowed surgeons to closely examine all of its defects, to know exactly what they were dealing with before operating on the real thing. They could look closely at the back of the model heart, which cannot be done during the operation, as the surgeons make their incision through the patient’s chest.

All images from MLive

Delighted with the success of his operation, Borgman even took the brave step of having a look at his own (3D-printed) heart! At an appointment on the 22nd of September, Borgman met with doctors and had a close look at the rubbery object himself. “It’s just amazing what they can do nowadays,” said the patient. “I can’t believe that’s what my heart actually looks like inside.” 

Vettukattil described how Borgman’s problem was high pressure of the heart, which caused its right chamber to enlarge to a dangerous size. “That pressure was going into the liver and the neck and kidneys and everything.” Using the model, Vettukattil was able to show Borgman exactly how his heart had been fixed. The doctor pointed out where excess muscle had been removed, where the new pulmonary valve had been placed, and where the mitral valve had been repaired.

Borgman’s mother Vicki was equally delighted with the operation and the 3D printing technique used to assist it. Nicholas’ condition, termed “pulmonary atresia with an intact septum”, relates to defects in the pulmonary valve, which prevent blood flowing properly from the heart to the lungs. Having known about the condition since Nicholas’ birth on November 22nd, 1989, and having seen him undergo three separate surgeries as a child, Vicki was understandably worried when a later checkup at the age of 25 revealed the serious problem of Nicholas’ enlarged right chamber. She was, however, reassured upon meeting with the medical team and seeing the 3D-printed model prior to surgery, calling that experience “the coolest thing ever”.

Doctors are hopeful that the operation will be Borgman’s last. Six weeks after surgery, tests revealed that the heart was functioning properly, and that the previously enlarged right chamber was shrinking at a good rate. Borgman, a cashier and maintenance worker at Quality Car Wash in Zeeland, has been cleared to return to work, and is already feeling the positive effects of the surgery: “I feel great,” he announced. “I’ve gone for a couple of mile walks each day. I do feel as though I have more energy.”

Luckily for those afflicted with similar heart problems, the medical research is not stopping here. Vettukattil, who combined MRI and echocardiogram techniques for the model of Borgman’s heart, is now looking to employ a tri-pronged method to provide even more accurate 3D-printed heart models. The doctor believes that incorporating CT, in addition to the other two methods, will give an even better picture of a heart’s external makeup. Even more exciting for the medical community is research being conducted into the development of a CAD-designed animated heart model, which will enable doctors to see a heart beating rather than stationary, as was the case with Borgman’s model. Vettukattil believes that this development could be revolutionary.

“A better understanding of the 3D spaces will reduce the number of pediatric patients in need of palliative surgery, and in turn, the number of adult patients in need of corrective surgery,” added Dr. Marcus Haw, lead surgeon on Borgman’s operation. “This type of surgery is especially applicable to those congenital heart patients age 20-50.” The use of additive manufacturing techniques in medical research shows no signs of slowing down, and Borgman’s 3D-printed heart is just the latest case of 3D printing techniques opening previously unimaginable doors in the world of medicine.

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3D printing technology creates robotic hands for kids

U.K. resident Charlotte Nott lost her limbs to bacterial meningitis at a young age. The 6-year-old now has a collection of artificial legs and prosthetic hands, and despite her disability, her dexterity and drawing skills are impressive.

“Some people are surprised when they see how mobile she is,” Charlotte’s mother Jenny Daniels said.

But as she grows, she’ll need a variety of different sized hands, which can be quite pricey.

“An adult bionic hand was $40,000 for one hand,” Daniels said.

That’s nearly $63,000 USD, an amount that many families can’t afford. But new 3D scanning and printing technology, being used by U.K.-based Open Bionics, can create custom-built robotic hands at a much lower price.

“At the moment, children are a bit underserved by the prosthetics industry, in the realms of robotic hands. So this project can really help them, because as a child grows they need to have a new prosthetic every year ideally,” said Joel Gibbard with Open Bionics.

At a target price of $1,800, the robotic hands are attainable for families with an average income.

Here’s how it works: A 3D scan is made using a tablet computer and then a 3D printer constructs it piece by piece. In what’s claimed to be a world first, the two techniques have been combined to custom-build robotic hands.

It’s still at the prototype stage, but this new advance means, for kids like Charlotte, a working hand might not be too far away.

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