Additive Manufacturing Strategies

Better Walk Uses 3D Printing to Accelerate Prototyping for a Better Crutch

ST Medical Devices

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If you have ever been on crutches, you know that they could use some improvement. Even if you just tried them out that time in high school that your friend broke their leg, you can understand how long term use would be undesirable. So why are they still even around? A lot of that is because the traditional crutch design is cheap to make and inexpensive to buy. With traditional crutches retailing at about $30 – $40 with widespread availability, it’s hard to create something better that can compete.

Screen Shot 2014-07-03 at 11.15.14 AM

Hard…but not impossible.

crutch-arm-199x300Students at Georgia Tech created an initiative to design a better and more comfortable crutch. They recently garnered more prominent attention when they showcased their idea at the maker fair hosted by The White House. In fact, they even got some customers and some seed money for further development.

This is now much more than a student project and the company, Better Walk expressed, through its Co-Founder Partha Unnava, that they are dreaming big. There are other companies out there that create ergonomic crutches, such as Mobi, iWalk, and FlexLeg that have the same $120 price tag as Better Walk.

So what makes Better Walk different?

Enter 3D printing. The obvious potential for customization may be the first thing that comes to mind, but actually the 3D technology’s greatest contribution to the group came from their ability to rapidly fabricate versions for testing and refinement. Unnava said:

 “We were able to create visual demonstrations of different iterations and changes suggest to us by orthopedic surgeons and physical therapists, and within a few weeks after the suggestions were made, take in the updated design for further feedback.”

The ability to engage in this type of iterative design has helped the company launch their product with a much more compressed

MobiLegs Ergonomic Crutches

MobiLegs Ergonomic Crutches

timescale for research and development. The ability to incorporate so much feedback led them to design their crutch with an angled handle and attached holster that provides much needed support to the wrist and forearm. They also addressed the traditional underarm trauma that occurs with crutch use by adding a side contact piece that prevents the user from putting their weight on their underarms.

As the company finishes the final stages of their development and their effort to become “the Nike brand of crutches” they already have six orthopedic surgeons as signees on a letter of intent to purchase. While the device is currently approximately four times as costly as traditional crutches, it does fall under a reimbursement code that will allow hospitals to purchase them and then provide them directly to patients. It remains to be seen as well how the price changes as designs like this move from their first stages of availability to something produced in a more competitive environment.

Let’s hear what you think of the Better Walk Crutch in the Better Walk forum thread on 3DPB.com.  Check out the video below for further details.

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