Laser Sintering

3D Printed Prosthetics made with Laser Sintering

3D printed prosthetic

Why you should read this: to discover some of the most significant benefits that 3D printing – specifically prosthetics – will soon bring to society.

Founded by Federico Ciccarese and two partners, Youbionic is a startup that aims to develop an affordable 3D printed prosthetic that makes extensive use of open-source hardware and advanced printing processes. Their first prototype is an artificial hand that is fully capable of independent movement for each finger, featuring 11 individual joints which enable it take up a wide range of set positions.

This project, currently in the research and development stage, stands out from the many other similar ongoing ventures in the field of affordable prosthetics, because it’s the first artificial hand to be made using laser sintering technology. The team is now seeking investors interested in helping to cover the financial requirements necessary to bring the product to market.

Small gestures with huge impact

It all begins with a digital design for a 3D printed prosthetic (image: Youbionic)
It all begins with a digital design (image: Youbionic)

For upper limb amputees it is often the simple everyday gestures that are the most important, such as making coffee or opening a door. Driven by the passion to help those who have lost a hand perform basic everyday tasks, YouBionic’s team has developed a highly sophisticated, low-cost 3D printed prosthetic that could possibly help thousands of people in the world, changing their lives for the better.

The bionic hand moves according to signals that are produced by sensors placed on the antebrachium. As the finger and carpus tendons that pass from this area are activated by flexing, they trigger hand and finger movement in the prosthetic hand.

Many open-source components make up the 3D printed prosthetic, for example an Arduino microprocessor board for monitoring the sensors and controlling the servo-motors that move the fingers into position. Youbionic asserts that the quality of this hardware is top-notch, ensuring good functional characteristics of the prosthetic hand while significantly lowering the overall cost of manufacturing. And in case something breaks, the components are easily replaceable for a small price, as standard parts are used for the hand.

An All-in-one 3D Printed Prosthetic

The Youbionic hand was imagined to be a functional but also beautiful 3D printed prosthetic (image: Youbionic)
The Youbionic hand was designed to be functional but also beautiful (image: Youbionic)

Using laser sintering as a manufacturing process means that the hand and all of its moving components are printed in one single print job, making it more versatile, faster and cheaper. The required geometry, material costs and mechanical properties left the team with no choice other than 3D printing. The thumb, the one part that is farther ahead in development, can move vertically and perpendicularly to the palm, thus achieving a 55 degree rotational motion towards the inner part of the hand.

During development, the team performed various computer simulations to ensure that the 3D printed prosthetic can withstand the various forces that are generated from picking up items, holding or pushing something at a natural body stance. Special attention was paid to the knuckle points where finite element analysis helped overcome any issue that emerged.

The Youbionic hand is now close to being ready for large scale manufacturing. No matter how long it takes to see the hand become commercially available, it’s certain that 3D printing plays a key role in making them affordable. Prohibitive expense was the main problem with similar products in the past, and this is exactly why 3D printing presents a viable revolution in manufacturing. We’ve been able to create advanced prosthetic parts for quite some time now, but being able to offer them to all the people who need them, no matter their economic status. A revolution becomes progress only when it is available to everyone.