Bionic Boy

Local Anglesey father creates prosthetic arm for son using API’s 3D scanning and 3D printing facilities. He was able to develop skills and knowhow that enabled him to not only create a prosthetic arm for his own son but also establish a business with the aim of helping others in the same situation all over the world.

Challenge

Provide a child with a prosthetic arm in a shorter time frame than is currently available via the National Health Service.

Solution

Utilise 3D scanning, computer aided design and 3D printing to create a custom prosthetic arm.

Results

Provision of functional prosthetics at a younger age. Reduce NHS waiting time. Shorter manufacturing process, from 11 weeks to 5 days. Business established.

Complications following birth led to the amputation of Ben Ryan’s son Sol’s arm just below the left elbow when he was just ten days old. With a wait of a year to receive a passive prosthetic limb from the NHS and a wait of three years for a functional one Ben decided that he could do better. Ben, a former Psychology lecturer knew the importance of early intervention so that Sol would accept and use his prosthetic arm. Research showed that children fitted with a prosthetic arm after the age of two had higher rejection rates.

Ben developed a purely hydraulic prosthetic arm for children in their critical period of neurological development. Giving them a lightweight prosthetic with an active grasp years in advance of current NHS provision. The prosthetic can also be created in 5 days compared to the current 11 weeks the NHS requires. He now has a functioning early prototype developed using API’s 3D scanning/printing resources and plans for a novel and patentable actuator.

Initially Ben experimented with a make-shift arm made out of everyday household items such as foam, cotton wool and sellotape. Encouraged by Sol attempting to feel his toys with his foam arm when previously it lay inactive Ben approached API to help him create a more sophisticated version. The first step was to 3D scan Sol’s arm in order to develop the CAD designs around it. Without a background in Product Design Ben spent countless hours teaching himself how to use a new free CAD software recommended to him. Once the first design was complete he returned to API to 3D print his first prototype.

“The best way we can help people, is to help them help themselves – and I think Ben is a good case in point there. We’ve given Ben the skills and access to the equipment and training so he can actually develop his own ideas,” said Wyn Griffith, API Chief InnovationTechnician.

The latest prototype includes 3D printed actuators and a power splitting unit (double acting helical bellow) enabling the wearer to open and close the thumb manually (using body power) or assisted (using a hydraulic pump or compressed air). This lightweight prosthetic takes 5 days to manufacture using a 3D scan of the arm compared to the usual NHS 11 weeks using a plaster cast. The 3D scan also provides the flexibility of having a digital copy of the arm on file in order to allow replacement prosthetic to be produced easily.

Ben is developing his designs further and has now set up a business, Ambionics, to concentrate on prosthetics full time with the aim of helping other children in a similar situation.

One of the first passive iterations of the prosthetic arm 3D printed on the Ultimaker in PLA.

Sol drawing using the latest iteration of his hydraulic prosthetic arm.

Ben with his son Sol playing in the garden.