Fitting orthoses (more commonly known as “splints and braces”) can be a difficult experience for anybody. For a child, who is not used to sitting still, following strict instructions and dealing with strangers who are measuring bits of their legs and feet, it is more alarming. Add to that multiple fittings and repeats whilst the device is fine-tuned and you have an experience that is absolutely necessary, but often dreaded.
Tackling that challenge to take a process and make it far less intrusive was the starting point of a major collaboration between seven organisations from the disability, start up, medical research and private innovation sectors. The project has embraced 3D scanning to streamline the measuring and calibration process and 3D printing technology to create the customised orthoses.
The measuring process now involves putting on a stocking, which the child can help colour-in with patterns (this helps the cameras to identify unique points on the child’s foot), sitting on a bench for a few seconds and having a multi-dimensional photo of the foot captured by 32 inexpensive cameras. The resulting orthosis is then printed out using an advanced 3D printer.
An additional bonus of using 3D printing is that it is very easy to incorporate decoration and design from the children themselves. In the trial so far, children have added their name (in raised letters), a helicopter, colourful ribbons and other designs to make it not only unique to their foot, but also personalised.
Whilst multiple fittings are still needed to get the absolute right fit, with the assistance of skilled orthotists, the process is so much less intrusive it is no longer dreaded by the children involved.
Currently the costs of 3D printing orthoses is comparable to the traditional method but with planned investments in automation and the costs of the technology lowers, the cost will significantly fall making orthoses cheaper.
The project involves a formal clinical trial which is being coordinated by Northcott Innovation. If successful, the project partners are keen to explore how the process can be scaled up for wider use and help more children have a less traumatic approach to fitting.
Project partners: Ability Mate, Northcott Innovation, Northcott, Cerebral Palsy Alliance, Mobius Medical, Robohand Australia, Korthotics
Northcott Innovation is a separate company owned by Northcott that was created in 2013 to explore new ways of thinking and design that will improve services and products for people with disability, often using technology.
This article was originally written for the Northcott website by Alex Varley.