Simulation for a better fit: Child friendly orthotics thanks to 3D Printing

Following experiences with their own son, who needed custom fit orthotics (the medical term for externally worn body braces and splints), Naveed and Samiya Parvez saw a need for more rapid and less invasive methods to provide custom fit devices to children with movement difficulties. When they learned about the potential for rapid customisation via 3D printing in combination with simulation technologies, they approached design and simulation experts at Altair to explore whether the technology could be applied to the complex world of children’s orthotics. They set out to create a more humane and comfortable process for fitting custom made orthoses and founded Andiamo, a London based healthcare technology company focused on children with complex healthcare needs. Thanks to the new digital process, Andiamo is now able to provide lighter and better fitting orthotics while reducing the delivery time from months to days; simultaneously causing a revolution in the orthotics industry.

Challenge: How to custom fit orthotic devices

The traditional way to make an orthosis for a child can be a lengthy and difficult process for the entire family. On a first appointment, you have to wrap the limb or torso in plaster which is an unpleasant, messy and long procedure and can be especially traumatising for children who are not able to communicate. After this, the plaster has to be cut off and sent for fabrication where the orthotic device is hand manufactured based on the plaster mould. Due to the handmade nature of the products and the relatively small number of medical specialists available to manufacture them, a wait of several months for the final brace is the norm – and even then there is no guarantee of a good fit as the child has grown since the plaster mould was made. Their experience was not an exception but rather the rule when children require custom made orthotic devices. Ill-fitting orthosis result in all kinds of negative scenarios:

  • If the device doesn’t fit then it won’t be worn so there is no health benefit realised by the child and family.
  • A bad fit can result in bruising, torn skin and an excessive amount of pain felt by the child.
  • The child and consequently the entire family needs to attend further appointments to make revisions to the device, incurring travel costs and time off work and school.

But how would it be possible to produce orthotic devices which would fit from the start and would spare children the often traumatising current procedure? Looking for a method to improve the process of creating and fitting orthoses for disabled children, Naveed and Samiya Parvez found the answer in 3D printing which, when combined with simulation technologies, can help to create orthoses in a fraction of the time while providing a more comfortable fit.

5 minutes to better orthotics

As soon as the idea was born and the goal was set, Naveed and Samiya realised that they needed technology experts to turn their concept into reality. This is when they turned to Altair, who immediately understood their problem and helped them to set up a process which incorporated the latest design and manufacturing technologies. In a first step, the child’s limb or torso is digitally scanned to provide a highly accurate 3D model of the body, but without any of the distress caused from the plaster procedure. Next, Andiamo’s design and engineering team use this data to generate a model in Altair’s simulation software to develop an orthosis that far more accurately matches the needs of the child.

“3D scanning is less invasive and more accurate than the traditional method – and it takes only 5 to 10 minutes,“ said Samiya. “The new process using 3D body data helped us to manufacture custom made orthotic devices that would fit on the first go, saving the family repeat visits. Now the only time we see our families again is when they’ve outgrown their orthosis.”

Simulating the dance between the orthosis and the human body

The design and engineering team use the 3D data as an input for Altair HyperWorks’ solvers, OptiStruct and Radioss, to simulate and optimise the orthoses. The challenge came from accurately representing the highly complex interaction of the human body and the device, along with the child’s movements, and the multiple contacts between the orthosis and the body in conjunction with the  nonlinear material behaviour of the orthosis made from polymers.

“With the help of the Altair solutions, we are able to simulate the dance between the orthosis and the human body,” said Naveed. “The software revealed the contact and pressure points and could predict where problems such as bruising would occur. This has helped us to go from guesswork to a place of deep understanding.”

Using Altair’s simulation solutions within HyperWorks for dynamic and static analysis, the engineers were able to simulate and predict the nonlinear behaviour of the material of the orthosis, and optimise the geometry using morphing in the FEM model until the problem was solved. Altair’s simulation solutions allow Andiamo engineers to quickly identify pressure points that would lead pain and discomfort. The engineering team was then able to design around the problem, creating a lightweight device that’s like a second skin to wear. Once the design is complete, the product is 3D printed to the exact specification of each child and at a fraction of the time and cost compared to the traditional handmade alternative. The result is a lighter, better fitting support that makes a huge difference to their users’ lives and that of their families.

 “Having simulation beforehand and understanding where a problem could occur, would shortcut all that bad experience for the kids,“ said Naveed. “Simulation helps us to understand, find proof and evidence where previously we were just guessing. And it provides the foundation on which you are able to find completely new ways of treating a condition.”

Exploring new ways of health treatment with the help of simulation

When a family comes to Andiamo to get the 3D printed orthosis, they can go home and be sure that the orthosis would fit, and that there would be no need for another appointment until the child outgrows the device. In the children’s orthotics industry this has caused a revolution: No more bruises, less appointments, less stress, and finally, improved quality of life.

Thrilled by the successful application of Altair’s simulation technologies, Andiamo will continue to rely on Altair solutions in the future. “The pressure to keep the promises that we’ve made weighs heavy but working with people like Altair just makes that journey easier,” said Naveed. “Altair is not only a provider but also a partner, and together we are doing important work – supporting families during their whole journey of caring for a child with movement difficulties. We want to make sure that we provide the best solution to these children, and Altair supports us in reaching this aim.”

When in October, the new Andiamo clinic will open its doors, helping even more children and family on their medical journey – Altair is honoured to contribute to Andiamo mission improving the life of the little ones.

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