Reaching Out – 3D Printed Assistive Devices

Guy Ehretsmann is an occupational therapist working for Pôle-Ergo. He is responsible for introducing 3D printing in to the field of assistive devices for people with disabilities. Additive manufacturing and 3D scanning became an attractive addition to the therapist’s toolbox. The advantages are simply too appealing to miss. He is currently working at a Moroccan project aimed to promote occupational therapy profession among students.

The Right Proportions

At the beginning, in 2013, Guy has been using a basic Chinese 3D printer. Although, it was enough to get the job done, he quickly realized how inefficient the process was. Preparations prior to 3D printing were taking up to 60% of the project’s time. What might be a pleasure for a technician or hobbyist, becomes a nuisance for a professional looking for solid results. Tinkering with settings was simply a waste of time.

The change came with Zortrax M200 and its proprietary materials. To compare, maintenance takes only 2% of Guy’s time now. Fine-tuned Zortrax Ecosystem provided him with a reliable 3D printing solution. When selecting materials for assistive accessories, it’s important to rely on the safe and already proven ones. Thus, Z-ABS and Z-ULTRAT are Guy’s favorites. Those thermoplastics are common and their chemical properties are well known. Furthermore, they guarantee unyielding durability and a remarkable surface quality.

ZORTRAX Pole Ergo 3D Printed Assistive Devices Infographic

A New Toolbox

Usually, Guy starts the designing process by preparing a clay model. It allows him to get closer to the intended purpose of the device. The next stage is to 3D scan the model.  Noteworthy, 3D printer brought a new perspective to the search for assistive devices, their designs, shapes and applications. What used to be impossible because of the costs and material’s restrictions, turned out to be reachable with the help of a 3D printer. The problem analysis concentrates on finding a personalized solution. It’s a shift in mindset, because you no longer have to try to adjust methods to existing devices. You can create them yourself! Furthermore, you can easily edit and adjust the design for the particular usage depending on the demands.

What’s invaluable about that approach, it allows a future user of the device to take part in the designing process. Generic mass-produced handicapped accessories available on the market offer some degree of flexibility. On the other hand, 3D printed counterparts are fully customizable. Additionally, the disabled person can take part in the designing process. Previously dependent on imposed solutions, now they can shape their own tools. There’s no need to adapt to the device, as they will adapt to their users. Self-designed accessories are also easier to accept. If found inefficient, they can always be redesigned and quickly 3D printed again. Everything to make life a little more comfortable.