3D printing in the service of prosthetists

    It's amazing how fast science fiction turns into reality. The semifinalists of Generations, the Moscow company Motorika, presented a project to create electromechanical prostheses of the upper extremities with a myo-control system (removing electrical impulses from muscles). At the stage of prosthesis development, 3D printing technology is used, which significantly reduces the cost of R&D and accelerates the creation of a prototype. The project aims to solve the problem of the availability of high-quality functional prostheses of the upper extremities both in the Russian and foreign markets. But the main thing is that the development will return to people the possibility of a full life and help to survive the misfortune.
    The project started in August 2013, commercial implementation is scheduled for the IV quarter of 2014. The essence of the project is to develop an electromechanical prosthesis of the hand and arm as a whole with a control system by reading muscle contractions. The key partners of the project are: Can-Touch.ru, an online industrial 3D printing service, the Institute of Prosthetics and Rehabilitation named after G.A. Albrechta (St. Petersburg), Ingria business incubator, Autodesk, ImpactHub, the international community of social entrepreneurs, etc.

    The technology for manufacturing prosthesis parts using 3D printing has already been tested - 3 traction finger prostheses are manufactured and installed. A prosthesis allows a person to perform a grip function. The product is pre-assembled and the operation of all joints is checked, and the final assembly takes place already on the patient’s hand. Under the prosthesis, a sleeve is made of special medical thermoplastic, which, when heated in hot water, becomes flexible and is easy to shape. After a few minutes, the material hardens and acts as a rigid frame to which the prosthesis is attached. The mass of the prototype is from 150 to 300 g, the grip force is from 0.5 to 4 N, which is more than enough to solve everyday problems.


    Now the project is at the end of the zero stage, which involves the certification of a mechanical (traction) finger prosthesis. Further, it is planned to develop an electromechanical prosthesis of the hand, prosthesis of the forearm and prosthesis of the hand. At the final stage, a prosthesis management system using the head neurointerface will be developed. The necessary investment at the zero stage is estimated at 5 million rubles, at the first stage - 20 million rubles.

    The final cost of the electromechanical prosthesis of the hand, presumably, will start from 180 thousand rubles. The price will directly depend on the functionality of the prosthesis. There are from 6 to 20 types of grips and gestures, it is assumed the possibility of using a remote control system via wireless communication, the ability to install (or the presence in the basic version) of various functional modifications (built-in smart watches, remote control devices at home, functional nozzles and much more).
    According to the authors of the project, the most advanced prostheses are now made using carbon fiber or expensive polymers, which provides them with lightness and strength, but guarantees a very high cost. The use of 3D printing will make it possible to produce more ergonomic, and most importantly cheap prostheses, by reducing costs at the development stage. “Now 3D printing technology for these purposes is just beginning to be applied and has not yet received wide distribution and commercialization in the prosthetic and orthopedic industry. But the potential of the technology is quite high, including by reducing the final cost of the product, as well as using the author’s design to create the prosthesis, ”says Ilya Chekh, the ideological and technological inspirer of Motorika.
    Moreover, according to the co-founder of the company Vasily Khlebnikov, mechanical and electromechanical prostheses are practically not developed in Russia, and those that are nevertheless produced are unreasonably expensive and practically do not improve. “Therefore, the product we create will be in demand, due to the low price, speed of manufacture, functionality and ergonomics, as well as wide availability,” Khlebnikov is sure.

    The annual volume of the global prosthesis market is about 600 billion rubles, the Russian - 1.7 billion rubles. The overall growth dynamics of the global market for upper limb prostheses is estimated at 4-5% per year. In 2013, the market for products was at the level of 30% in the world and 15% in Russia. By 2019, the company plans to install more than 10,000 dentures and exceed the annual turnover of up to 250 million rubles. The developers plan to occupy up to 5% of the world market and up to 30% of the Russian market by 2020. To date, the first 30 applications have already been received from patients.
    Today, there are prospects for the complete import substitution of existing prostheses of the upper extremities available on the market, due to the low quality and very limited functionality of the analogues. A feature of the developed prostheses is the possibility of quick modification with additional removable functional modules (various mounting modules for phones, tablets, etc., removable or built-in tools for technical work).

    The authors identify bureaucratic delays with product certification, conservative prosthetics market in Russia, limited opportunities for entering the US and European markets due to the political situation and increasing the cost of imported components as possible risks on the path to the project.

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