3D Printed Prosthetic Research

As a university researcher, it often takes a long time until I can actually share my work publicly. As a result this blog often only tells part of the story, for example I recently posted about 3D printing a prosthetic hand by e-NABLE. What I didn’t say is that this was part of research into adapting the design to perform different tasks. Recently undergraduate product design student Cory Dolman worked with me to prototype some new concepts, and his work has been picked up by UTS who created this great video about his process and the ideas we’ve been bringing to life. You can also read all the details on his blog which was maintained during the project with me here.

For anyone who is yet to realise the opportunities of 3D printing technology, hopefully this video goes some way to showing how quickly designers like Cory and myself are able to iterate designs, constantly testing our ideas and expediting the design process. We hope that as we refine these designs, we will be able to share them back into the e-NABLE community, and allow anyone with access to a 3D printer to not only benefit from the prosthetic, but also continue to iterate and improve it collaboratively. This is what excites me about 3D printing – it’s not just about the technology, but what it enables.

– Posted by James Novak

Oh That’s Handy – 3D Printed Prosthetic

20180114_e-Nable Prosthetic Hand

If you’ve been paying any attention to 3D printing over recent years, no doubt you’ve seen at least a few 3D printed prosthetics. From the Iron Man prosthetic arm to the prosthetics being 3D printed for our animal friends, 3D printing is ushering in a new generation of low-cost, customisable prosthetics. Perhaps you’ve even seen my build of the fully robotic InMoov hand which has been documented on this blog.

At the extremely affordable end of the spectrum for humans, Enabling the Future (also called e-NABLE) is one of the most well-known names, developing a range of  open source prosthetics since 2013, which can be freely downloaded, printed, assembled and sent off to those in need. As part of my research I have wanted to build one of the e-NABLE hands for a while now to understand more about them, particularly in comparison to the more complex InMoov robot arm. As pictured above, I’ve finally got around to printing the Phoenix v2 hand, which is wrist actuated to open/close the fingers.

When you look at all the details, it really is a clever design which is optimised for 3D printing on a desktop FDM machine, with almost no support material or waste, and tolerances that fit really well together. Anyone with a 3D printer could assemble one of these, most of the non-3D printed parts can be sourced at a local hardware store or found in your shed (screws and fishing line). The instructions are very clear, and there are loads of videos to help demonstrate the assembly process and how some of the technical aspects of the hand work. Because I printed in ABS rather than PLA plastic, the only small hurdle I had was in the thermoforming process of the gauntlet (the bent white piece that mounts to the users arm), which required me using a strip heater in the university workshop. If you find yourself in a similar situation, you can check out the details which were posted in one of my previous posts. However, I recommend using PLA if you have the choice to make this part easier, only requiring some boiling water as demonstrated in this video. In itself, this is a really cool technique that I will use in the future to create stronger parts; you can always learn a lot from 3D printing other people’s designs.

Overall the e-NABLE community really has done a great job in refining this design over the years, and I’m already working on some of my own iterations which will hopefully be fed back into the e-NABLE community in the future. If you’re looking for a project to build and learn from, or potentially getting involved in the community and building hands for people in need, Enabling the Future is definitely worth researching.

– Posted by James Novak

Thermoforming 3D Prints

20171113_Thermoform 3D Print

Sorry for the blogging silence, this is the longest break I’ve had since starting a number of years ago. Long story short I’ve made a big move recently for work and am only just starting to get back into printing and making new projects. If you follow my social media, you’ve probably noticed some new things starting!

One of the projects I’ve wanted to play with since previously building the InMoov robot arm is the Enabling the Future prosthetics (aka. e-NABLE). This week I 3D printed and built most of the Phoenix v2 hand, which of course is open source and free to download. A really inspiring company, and a vastly more simple design compared to the electronic InMoov! Some of the pieces, which I printed on an UP Mini 2 in ABS plastic, can be seen above. I’ll post full details once I get it up and running, just waiting on some elastics for the fingers. The gauntlet piece, which attaches to the users forearm, is printed in a flat position and then bent into a C shape afterwards. This is a really clever idea for providing the strongest functional part with optimal layer orientation. But how do you bend a 3D print?

Well the instructions from e-NABLE require dipping the piece in boiling water for a few seconds to make it pliable – if you 3D print in PLA, which has a lower melting temperature than ABS. Check out the video here. However ABS is not really going to be affected by boiling water, and just to make sure I did try this technique with my first print. It did get a bit of a bend, but mostly a snap!

For print #2 I instead found myself a strip heater in the workshop, which is perfect for heating a nice clean line and normally used to bend acrylic sheets. A few seconds on each side of the print and it bent perfectly without de-lamination or splitting, and was easy to re-heat to make small adjustments to fit with the hand print. This is a technique I’d never thought of using, but has really given me a lot of ideas for creating 3D prints which are post-processed like this into a stronger shape than if they were 3D printed in their final more complex form. I think some of the simple enclosures I’ve made in the past could be much stronger if considered more like a sheet-metal part, although then this begs the question why not just laser cut the design? Well in the case of this e-NABLE prosthetic, there are some 3D details for snapping in other pieces, which could not be done using a 2D process like laser cutting. This would be important to consider if using this process with 3D printing, but it’s certainly an interesting technique worth further experimentation.

If you’ve done something like this yourself, or have ideas for thermoforming a 3D print, leave me a comment.

– Posted by James Novak