CEDARVILLE—They haven't even graduated yet, but some Ohio college students say they've discovered how to make a custom part for prosthetics.
- For those without a limb, whether from amputation or birth, being fitted for a prosthetic is a process
- Students at Cedarville University say they can use a 3D printer to make a custom prosthetic liner in hours
- The students are preparing to present their results to a prosthetic company in Dayton
And with the process normally taking a few weeks for patients, these students say their method would take less than a day.
We know 3D printers are capable of making some incredible things—typically faster and cheaper.
Now in the hands of students preparing to enter the workforce, it's their job to try and figure out what they can use it for to help others.
"The project we've been doing is a custom distal gel cups for amputees using 3D printing," said Tad McKanna, Cedarville University senior medical engineering student.
This group of senior mechanical engineering students is nearing graduation at Cedarville University.
They're also nearing the end of their yearlong project—creating a custom product for prosthetic legs.
"Another way to add shock absorption is through distal cups, which we are designing which are inserts for the liner that they put on before and it just adds extra cushioning," said Josh Wells, Cedarville University senior mechanical engineering student.
One student who has been able to give them feedback is their professor's daughter Grace Norman, a junior nursing major at Cedarville University and a Paralympic gold medalist in Rio in 2016.
"The distal cups are very important in my athletic career because of the constant impact, especially in running.You're constantly getting that pounding in every step," said Norman.
She's all too familiar with needing to get them replaced, as they can wear down like a pair of tennis shoes.
"If I start getting sore in my distal end, then I start looking into a new one. It normally takes about two weeks from when I made the initial complaint," said Norman.
"The current process is laborious and takes a lot of hands-on work. And we are using 3D printing to supplement a lot of that work," said McKanna.
That's because they need to be customized for patients like Grace with irregular limbs, requiring molds to be made.
"So what happens is the tips of this gets really hot and it melts this plastic material so that it can lay it into whatever shape it needs to. And it's going to lay it down layer by layer,” said Isaac Wheeler, Cedarville University senior mechanical engineering student.
“After the molds are made, the silicone is injected in there. You flip it upside-down to be able to cure well, so after 3-4 hours, you have a fully cured silicone distal cup product,” said Kenny Coppens, Cedarville University senior mechanical engineering student.
"The whole process would take less than a day in the office to make," said McKanna.
As the class prepares to present their results to a prosthetic company in Dayton, the hope is their concept will help anyone like Grace minimize any discomfort as they go for the gold in life.
"So I really like the product that they've made and I think the molds are very similar to what I use currently,” said Norman. "Especially going into the next Olympic year, 2020, and so making sure I'm injury free is very important."
Other projects that mechanical engineering students have been involved in are a custom prosthetic hand to help a student weight-lift, a neck device that will help stop blood flow in case of an injury, developing walkers for children, and even a prosthetic swimming foot.
And all before they even get their diploma.