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3D printing helps upgrade prosthesis for combatveteran
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3D printing helps upgrade prosthesis for combat veteran

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Aaron Pearson - October 02, 2022
Aaron Pearson - October 02, 2022

Now a competitive paralympic kayaker, amputee gets an enhancement ideal for his active lifestyle

As part of Restart's Makers for Heroes project, the best minds in Israeli innovation gather every year to help soldiers injured during their military service. A team of volunteers from Stratasys, a leader in polymer 3D printing solutions, which has supported the project since its early days, came together this year to help Ron Halevi, an Israeli veteran who lost his leg in combat.

Halevi, who from a young age was rowing kayaks, knew that after his recovery he would return to the sport he loved so much. Not only did he return to kayaking, he competed in the Paralympic Games. He is currently ranked 12th in the World Championship and 7th in the European Kayak Championship. He also studied mechanical engineering on the way.

The challenge faced by the 12 members of the Stratasys team, composed of volunteers from different departments in the company, was to design and upgrade the look of the standard prosthesis. The idea was to turn it, at Halevi's request, into a fashionable, practical and durable accessory - both in feel and in practice. "I wanted to have the option of getting a different look every day in terms of design, that I could play with the prosthesis and turn it into a design element and it would have my own personal touch according to my and Stratasys's designs," explains Halevi.

"Ron never rests for a moment. He fulfills his dreams. Ron is the epitome of someone who is not ashamed of his amputation, and lives in peace with the prosthesis," says Ohad Meyuhas, Director of Innovation and Sustainable Solutions at Stratasys. "But there are things that bother him in the day-to-day use of the prosthesis. These things may sound minor to us, but they are meaningful for him. This is what the project is about this year - upgrading a user-experience that we will probably never understand."

"Like the superheroes' equipment, we wanted to give the prosthesis unique capabilities, such as a hidden wallet, or a bottle opener and even a place for the prosthesis’ operating tools... The little practical things can be really cool, but the design aspect is just as important."

How it worked

The area in the prosthesis that connects the knee to the foot is a metal rod that forms a 'rim' that is completely different from the futuristic appearance of the rest of the prosthesis. "It was important to me that the metal area closer to the bottom of the prosthesis be of the right thickness, so as not to distort the pants above," explains Halevi. "We wanted to include a practical application in the design, like an ID placeholder, a place for a hex key for the screws of the prosthesis, maybe even a bottle opener... the little practical things can be really cool, but the design aspect is just as important."

Ron's occupation as an athlete was also a significant part of the process. "We talked about the kayaks as part of the design - we wanted a more sportive look in the design and materials as well, so that they would be suitable for dealing with water or other challenging conditions,” he says.

The chief designers of this year's project on behalf of Stratasys, Jane Davidov and Naftali Eder, accepted the challenge. "The product we created is a solution that serves as an integral part of the prosthesis and is meant to answer his need to disguise the lower connection of the prosthesis to the upper part of the leg," Davidov explains.

The process required constant communication with Ron to provide him with a personalized, tailored solution - a significant advantage of 3D printing. "We wanted that, beyond the technology, it would fit his character. It was important for us to give added value not only to this specific problem but also to give an additional 'twist'."

"The whole team worked together to come up with a solution that we hope will be successful and give him the life he wants to live," says Eder. "We scanned the prosthesis he has today and used it as a skeleton to start designing the solution. We printed several versions and models to reach the appropriate shape. When we had the shape, we worked more on the visibility, the aesthetic side that will give it interest without weighing down the product. We wanted to add the ability to customize and even change how the product looks - because everything can be printed in 3D. This unique solution will fit Ron's various prostheses in the future and even other people. Our 'product' simply 'wears' the prosthesis and thus it will be able to connect to different prostheses in the future if this one is replaced. Any change is possible at the click of a button and a new print, including texture and visibility changes, is easy to perform and in an accessible, simple and easily available solution."

"There are also nuances that we talked about in relation to the differences between the seasons in terms of temperature in summer and winter, and in relation to his activities in the water," Davidov adds, "and beyond that, all the different versions were really crazy - we printed colorful and interesting things."

The prosthetic upgrade was produced on a 3D printer that Stratasys introduced last year, the H350™, which is designed specifically for producing durable end-use parts and uses a renewable polymer that will hold up well for Halevi’s busy lifestyle.

"It is a functional and simple solution,” Eder says. “If he walks, for example, with tight jeans, the outline of the jeans will look like a normal leg and it will not be possible to recognize that he has a prosthesis. Ron also wanted us to help him design something beautiful, lightweight with an industrial look, that in the summer days when he walks in short pants, his uniqueness will stand out in contrast to the winter, in which he asked that the prosthesis not be visible under the long pants and that the pants not ride up.”

"For six years now, I have been accompanying Stratasys volunteer teams volunteering with the Restart Foundation," says Meyuhas. "Every year we come to do good for someone, and along the way we learn about our tools, the various technologies we have. This also leads to innovation for us - apart from the engagement of the employees. It helps us understand what we have, what our technology is capable of, and where it is possible to innovate and do more. The employee volunteering in versatile teams from different departments leads to disruptive innovation and creativity."

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Stratasys is leading the global shift to additive manufacturing with innovative 3D printing solutions for industries such as aerospace, automotive, consumer products and healthcare. Through smart and connected 3D printers, polymer materials, a software ecosystem, and parts on demand, Stratasys solutions deliver competitive advantages at every stage in the product value chain. The world’s leading organizations turn to Stratasys to transform product design, bring agility to manufacturing and supply chains, and improve patient care.

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