For the past two years, I have been a member of a design team called Michigan Neuroprosthetics. We design and 3D print prosthetics for pediatric patients. The team has been around for three years. We base ourselves out of the Shapiro Design Lab.
A huge problem with pediatric prosthetics is they are mechanical. A mechanical prosthetic functions by motion in a joint to open and close the hand. For example, if I had an amputation below the elbow, I would bend my elbow to close the hand. Most are made without wrist motion, as well. Mechanical designs have very limited motion and tend to not be used often. Myoelectric prosthetics are controlled by muscle flexing. However, these prosthetics tend to be tens of thousands of dollars, so they are not readily available for children since they grow so quickly.
Our aim is to create high quality, low cost myoelectric prosthetics. We use 3D printing so anyone, in theory, can download our designs, edit it as needed, and print it. Last year’s design cost under $100 with the majority of the price coming from electronics. The design last year had a movable wrist. This year, we are adding in another motor to enable two more hand movements: pointing and the okay sign.
The 3D printers are a great form of manufacturing since we can rapid prototype in house for cheap. When we were making our design from scratch, we had to experiment with what worked best. Lots of designs had to be tested out. If we had decided to have someone else manufacture them, it would have taken weeks to get the parts back. With us doing it, we could have multiple printers running and get multiple designs out, only having to pay for filament.
This year has been focusing much more on refining and improving our designs. More work is being done in CAD instead of printing everything. As I mentioned earlier, we are adding a second motor into the design. The main reason we can do this is due to our patient being an 11 year old. Last year, we worked with a very small 9 year old.
We have already sent our designs elsewhere for others to print and use. Last year, we shared our files to a man in India. This year, we are doing so for a little girl here in the US. Even though we have only been around for only a couple of years, our designs are already being used by others. Eventually, we want to upload our designs on the internet for anyone to download. The team still has a while until we do that. We want to be sure that we share our best work. While our work is good now, there is plenty of room to improve.