3D printed arms to be trialled worldwide

WalesOnline has reported that Ambionics is launching a beta trial of its 3D printed prosthetic arms involving twenty children on five continents.

Ambionics was founded by Ben Ryan whose son Sol was born in March 2015 with an undetected clot in his arm following a forceps delivery. Surgeons had to amputate just below the elbow joint after Ben Ryan persuaded them to save as much of his son’s lower arm function as possible. Ben Ryan developed a pioneering way of making 3D printed prosthetic limbs, and made an arm for Sol. He hopes that his invention will one day benefit children around the world by making prosthetic limbs cheaper and quicker to make.

Research into infant development shows that higher rejection rates occur when children are fitted with prosthetic devices after the age of two, while another study reveals that those fitted early accept their powered prosthesis more easily than those fitted later.

Ambionics, which is based in Menai Bridge, Anglesey, is making use of hydraulic technology to develop a unique approach to operating a mechanical hand. This has been achieved without expensive motors, control systems and batteries or complicated wire and lever mechanisms and harnesses.

Instead, by placing water filled rubber sacks (actuators) at pressure points on the body, for example, under the arm, inside the socket or even within a shoe. Pressure can be generated by the user to operate the system. The technology is inspired by how spiders’ legs to actuate using hydraulic pressure.

Ben Ryan said “Each arm created is customised to the user from a 3D scan of their limb. Parents usually perform the scan at home while their children are asleep. Once this is done they send us the file. We clean up the scan data then design and supply test sockets followed by the full arm system. Most of the children taking part in the trial are from Wales and the rest of the UK, but we also have youngsters in Europe, Australia, Africa, Canada and South America. The trial moves us a significant step further forward towards the commercialisation of our technology which can be a real game-changer for children under the age of three. The NHS takes 11 weeks to convert the plaster cast of an arm into a wearable prosthetic, whereas Ambionics can produce one in less than five days. Scans are kept on file making it easy for replacement prosthetics to be produced through 3D printing.”

Ambionics has been supported by donations from members of the public through its website. The company has also been backed by sponsor RS Components, which has provided materials, and design expertise from multinational software specialist Autodesk. Ben Ryan has also worked closely with technicians at Warwick University and API, Bangor.

Autodesk’s Andrew Mill and Melissa Dall have recently teamed up with colleague Paul Sohi to work with Ben Ryan to drive the project forward. Paul Sohi said “Ambionics is a representation of many things to me. Not only is Ben behind something incredibly life-enhancing for his son, he’s demonstrably proven that the prosthetics world is ready for a paradigm shift, particularly when it comes to how we think about prosthetics for children. What really excites me about this is how Ben is able to work in a true, pure digital method, allowing him to connect with parents and clients from all over the world.”

Ben Ryan said “The trial is the next exciting step on our journey to make fully functioning, cost effective, 3D printed hydraulic prosthetics available to children under three in the UK and globally. We are actively fundraising to support the ongoing research and development of the product and to enable us to reach our end goal.”

Ambionics will be one of the first tenants at the Menai Science Park (M-SParc) when it opens early next year.

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