Medical AMProsthetics

Sinterit’s SLS Technology Used to 3D Print Exoskeleton Arm for SMA Patients

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Sinterit, the world’s first producer of desktop SLS 3D printer, worked with a 3D designer to an exoskeleton arm – a solution that gives children with SMA the possibility to move their hands, draw, play and express themselves.

A new technology for medicine

The exoskeleton arm is a device that allows children to move hands, draw, play and express themselves – simply to do what kids love to do. The invention is extremely useful, especially for children with SMA (Spinal Muscular Atrophy) who are not able to move their legs, arms or hands without specialized external supportive devices. SMA is a genetic neuromuscular disease, which means it is inherited and affects the nerves responsible for muscle functions.

Sinterit helped to create an, affordable and easy to setup, dynamic support exoskeleton arm which is intended to be ready out of the box use. The idea came from parents of children with SMA searching for an adequate solution. The project was designed by Bartłomiej Gaczorek from Crystal Cave.

The designer started to work on the exoskeleton after speaking with the mother of a boy suffering from SMA. She knew that Gaczorek had an experience with “3D”. Her 3-year old son had tested several 3D printed low-budget alternatives, but they proved limited and no other solution was available. As the designer noticed – the existing models were based on great engineering, but they still needed some improvement.

He consulted for the project with parents of SMA patients who understand their children needs, as well as doctors and physiotherapists on each stage of development. SLS 3D printing offered several more possibilities than other 3D technologies like FDM or SLA, because of its precision, freedom of form as well as light-weight and strength of the materials.

Those features are important in preparing prototypes as well as for the production of end-use, unique, tailor-made parts of exoskeletons for each patient. The cooperation between the designer and Sinterit began with prototyping process – the necessary parts have been printed on Sinterit Lisa and it worked perfect. Now they are working together to achieve success and create perfect exoskeletons for 3 children with SMA in Poland and in the further perspective – for other people in need.

“I decided to print the main elements using SLS technology in order to print the complex internal structures. Very important factor for me is also the comfort of user which is much better with SLS/SLA than with FDM technology. The cost of Sinterit Lisa SLS printing is already very low compared to other industrial machines and the quality is perfect – that’s why I chose that printer,” Gaczorek explained.

Designing, testing and developing devices

The whole process of production, involving 3D SLS printing technique, was precise, time-efficient and as hands-free as possible. Using Sinterit’s Lisa SLS desktop printer, along with state-of-the-art design tools implemented by Gaczorek, the device met all requirements. Autodesk Fusion 360 was used to make complex movement analysis and shape optimization possible, while the internally complex parts were produced on the high-precision 3D printing system using high-strength, non-toxic materials. 3D printing allowed to significantly shorten the time required for designing, testing and developing each stage of the exoskeleton arm. SLS 3D printing also allowed to preserve the required precision designed to work with the bearings in exoskeletons. The comfort of the child – the most important aspect in the entire process – was achieved at the highest level.

SLS 3D printing makes life better

Application of 3D printing technology in the area of motor skills improvement is not just a fancy daydream anymore. The use of a 3D printing technique resulted in creating internally complex shapes with sufficient precision reduces total number of required parts. Support hardware recently added to Sinterit Lisa (such as a new sieve that allows to recycle the printing powder and additive easy to use software) makes the process of printing easier and more effective than ever before. Most importantly SLS parts are solid, extremely durable and lightweight, which all goes to increase the children’s comfort significantly.

There are still many fields in medicine, associated with improving motor skills, where SLS 3D printing can be an alternative solution, which is both easy-to-use and extremely precise. The exoskeleton arm for kids is just one of many more to come.

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