This Man’s 3D Printed Bionic Arm Is Thought-Controlled

- Aug 20, 2019-

Paul Teupel was born without most of his left arm and has worn prostheses since he was three. He describes his second prosthetic as “a horrible contraption”. He explains: “That pushed me to not wear any prosthesis at all for a few years.”

It was only when Teupel turned 12 and received a myoelectric prosthesis which enabled him to pick things up and hold them that he began to wear a prosthetic every day. His movement was still restricted, but this was a huge improvement.

In 2017, orthopedic technician Carsten Suhle of Sanitätshaus Klinz of Bernburg, Germany, told Teupel to get rid of his prosthetic arm. Suhle planned to make a prosthetic that was much better than anything Teupel had ever tried on before.

Suhle worked on the prosthetic as part of his Master’s thesis. It took five months to create a bionic arm using 3D scanning and printing.

Helping to reduce costs is a change in the German government’s health insurance system which will nationally endorse 3D scanning and printing of prostheses as a superior option to using any traditional methods.

This decision was made due to the cost-effective nature of 3D scanning and printing, but also because the resulting prints are more durable and provide better patient mobility and comfort.

3D Printing a Bionic Arm

Suhle quickly developed a prosthetic using his expertise in orthopedics as well as 3D scanning and printing. Teupel regularly visited for fittings.

“With many hundreds if not thousands of movements performed each day, Paul’s body needs a prosthesis that naturally harmonizes with it, as an extension of the body, so that within a short period of time, he can just live his life and not think about his arm,” explains Suhle. “That was my goal.”

Halfway through the project, Suhle began using an Artec3D scanner from Artec Gold Certified Reseller KLIB. Suhle and his team received training on how to use the handheld 3D scanners Eva and Space Spider.

It took 10 months to go from first prototype to a ready to use bionic arm. The design was printed using PA2200 plastic and incorporates a hand (bebionic) that was purchased from German prosthetics company Ottobock. The arm includes cables and wires which lead to sensors from Teupel’s skin that pick up on muscle electricity to move the arm and hand.

“Carsten did a tremendous job of developing and engineering my new arm,” said Teupel. “He reinvented a double-jointed system with two pivot axes, which allowed a range of movement of more than 90 degrees. I will never forget the moment when, for the first time in my life, I lifted a glass of water to my lips with my left hand and took a sip.”