How people with Parkinson’s disease are being helped by a Welsh university

The Centre for Advanced Batch Manufacture (CBM), at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD), is working to improve the lives of people with Parkinson’s disease.

WalesOnline reports Walk With Path, a London based company, approached CBM to help develop a device to aid the mobility of people with freezing of gait (FOG), a common symptom in people with Parkinson’s disease.

FOG occurs in up to 53% of people with Parkinson’s disease and is a major reason for falls by causing an inability to initiate or continue walking. When someone attempts to lift a foot to step forward, the foot is felt to be “stuck” to the ground, sometimes with trembling of the legs.

Research has shown that visual cues on a walking surface can make a considerable difference in overcoming FOG and the team at Walk With Path had the idea to develop a wearable device that would provide this vital visual cue. Walk With Path asked CBM to work with its industrial designer to develop this product, known as Path Finder.

Path Finder is a laser light cueing device which attaches to a shoe, and projects a horizontal line on the ground in front of the user, at a set distance from the feet. This gives the wearer a visual cue to step across, and acts as an external stimulus to trigger walking.

A simple prototype had already been made which proved the principle and CBM was asked to help develop this into a commercial product.

CBM’s experience of manufacture and taking products through to market proved invaluable whilst defining the product design specification. Working closely with the Walk With Path team and potential users, it defined and refined the device operation to ensure the final design was fit for purpose.

CBM detailed each component in 3D computer aided design software before manufacturing three sets of working prototypes which were used for extensive user testing.

Feedback from the user trials allowed the design to be refined before a full set of 2D control drawings were produced for manufacture.

Less than twelve months after the first meeting, Walk With Path has launched the Path Finder, an innovative, affordable product to help Parkinson’s disease sufferers overcome walking difficulties.

Company founder Lise Pape said “CBM helped us to prototype multiple iterations of our product, carrying out user testing at each stage by using their rapid prototyping services to make devices our users could interact with. Once we moved to mass manufacture the support did not end, and we were able to count on CBM to offer advice and opinion during the DFM stage of tool design.”

The development of a learning and innovation village in Swansea’s SA1 area supports UWTSD’s aim to inspire individuals and develop reflective graduates and practitioners who can make a difference to society.

CBM is a core component of the university’s new SA1 Swansea Waterfront development, driving innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship among companies engaged in new product development and low-volume manufacture.

It is an industry focused advanced research, new product development, and batch manufacturing facility. Its unique offering is delivered via an experienced development team, utilising state of the art technology platforms which includes 3D printing, scanning and low volume manufacturing.

MADE (Manufacture for Advanced Design Engineering) project is a suite of EU funded projects, being delivered by CBM, designed to collaborate with SMEs to future proof their operations by upskilling and adopting advanced manufacturing technologies.

The project is being offered to qualifying organisations as an integrated portfolio, to help Welsh manufacturers understand the challenges they face and how they can respond to them, by tapping into disruptive technologies and training, appropriate for their businesses.

UWTSD deputy vice-chancellor Professor Robert Brown said “These are challenging times for manufacturing in Wales, with a number of uncertainties ahead. The on-going Brexit process will usher in economic shifts. We are seeing rapid changes, relevant to manufacturing, unfolding in the world of technology, and there are underlying evolutions in play as far as working patterns and staffing is concerned.

“The MADE initiative offers a smart suite of collaborative projects, providing vital tools for manufacturers who are determined to be well-equipped for the future. We are already liaising with manufacturers of all kinds, to talk with them about how the MADE project can help them. We would encourage manufacturers to get in touch with the MADE team to find out how we can work together to benefit their operations.”

UWTSD vice-chancellor Professor Medwin Hughes said “UWTSD has a long tradition of working in partnership with industry, delivering programmes and working in collaboration to meet their needs. The programmes offered through the MADE project will enable us to work with the manufacturing sector to respond to the technological challenges of the fourth industrial revolution and to support the sector to maximise the opportunities offered through such innovation.

“The university shares the Welsh Government’s ambition, in securing the funding though ERDF (European Regional Development Fund) of assisting companies to boost their competitiveness and productivity in order to secure growth and jobs, particularly in west Wales and the Valleys where such investment is much needed.”

Eddyfi Technologies principal scientist/product manager Professor Neil Pearson said “Eddyfi Technologies, with the UK Headquarters in Swansea, design and manufacture remote robotic inspection crawling solutions for the oil and gas industry. This is where we recently approached UWTSD in partnership with CBM to help us investigate alternative materials such as polymers, new additive manufacture techniques among others that would improve the manufacture of the housing and introduce new techniques to the company that we could apply to other products.”

Industry Wales chairman James Davies said “Industry Wales is fully supportive of these EU programmes. At time of significant change and challenge for the Welsh Manufacturing sector, this operation is both timely and critical. With an established track record in providing industry focused solutions, UWTSD are ideally placed to deliver such an operation.”

CBM Research specialises in applied interdisciplinary research. Research projects typically employ advanced engineering technologies to drive innovation across a range of industrial sectors.

CBM has entered into a number of strategic partnerships in the UK, Europe and Asia. Academic partnerships across Europe support current PhD research projects, and further collaborations are under development in Asia to facilitate commercial opportunities.

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