AMS Spring 2023

The Power of NinjaFlex: French Occupational Therapists Create 3D Printed Joystick for Wheelchair

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Untitled3D printing has affected manufacturing and designing to the point that nearly everything that can be made is either now rolling off of a 3D printer or will be soon–and usually in some very improved or unique fashion. We follow 3D printing in nearly every sector, from automotive to medical, with everything in between covered–and plenty coming from desktops, labs in universities, and a variety of makerspaces.

Seeing 3D printing technology help those with physical challenges, however, is immensely inspiring. And numerous innovators and medical professionals have been inspired to put their creative minds to use at the 3D printer to help make life that much better for people of all ages with many different challenges.

Recently, two occupational therapists in France decided to refine a wheelchair design to help a paraplegic patient (at the C5 level, meaning the individual can still use arms and hands) who would benefit from great ease in getting around.  Guy Ehretsmann (Pôle-Ergo) and Jean-François Bodin (ITSR Lyon – HCL Hanry Gabrielle Lyon) created a 3D printed joystick printed in NinjaFlex. Originally this was a test to see if indeed they could replace a traditional joystick successfully with 3D printing and improve directional mobility for the user.

UntitledWhile at first they were going to fabricate a chin-driven apparatus, that was discovered to be much too inefficient, so they forged ahead and created a hand-maneuvered 3D printed joystick with special thermo-plastic molding, designed in Meshmixer, a free 3D design tool that allows users great latitude in coming up with completely unique designs for 3D printing.

“We are working to find how we could use 3D printing to help disabled people to find a better autonomy in their living day life,” Ehretsmann told 3DPrint.com. “That is why we have worked on a molded, scanned and printed joystick to help a quadriplegic person drive an electric wheelchair.”

“The exponential development of 3D tools (3D scanner, 3D pen, etc.) and the accompanying printer is a powerful inspiration that has opened many horizons for creativity and experimentation.”

UntitledWhile the project is still ongoing, at this point, they have created a very functional, flexible joystick attachment which allows the user to fit his hand inside the flexible 3D printed material and move it easily as required.

Control of the wheelchair appears to be seamless, and much greater comfort and ergonomics are attained due to the comfortable and pliant material. Testing so far indicates to the therapist/innovators that not only is this a product that has great potential, but they believe that the 3D printer is indeed ‘a tool that deserves to be in the toolbox of the occupational therapist.’

The overall mission is to use digital design and the power of 3D printing to bring greater autonomy to those using electric wheelchairs–and Ehretsmann reports that he is currently teaching the technique to his occupational therapist students at the University of France.  Let’s hear your thoughts on this story in the Wheelchair Joystick forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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