READING, Pa. — Eric M. Miller, of Ephrata, a sophomore mechanical engineering major at Penn State Berks, qualified for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ Innovative Additive Manufacturing 3D Challenge for a lightweight, low-cost, longer-lasting and fully mobile lower-leg prosthetic he is designing and creating based on his interest in biomechanics.
Miller’s project was entered in the Global E-Fest North America East, held at Tennessee Tech University, Cookeville, Tennessee, from April 21 to 23. The IAM 3D challenge E-Fests are a series of regional events built around design, advanced manufacturing and robotics.
Miller said that five semi-finalists will be chosen from each of the three E-Fests. Those winners will compete at ASME’s International Design and Engineering Technical Conferences & Computers and Information in Engineering Conference (IDETC/CIE) at Cleveland in August.
Collaborating with Miller on his Project E.M.OTION are Penn State Berks campus senior Grant Y. Bleicher, of Doylestown, who is majoring in electro-mechanical engineering technology; and faculty sponsor Elizabeth Wiggins-Lopez, lecturer in engineering and director of the Berks Learning Factory, who interfaces with industry partners to identify and create engineering projects via first-year and senior engineering courses and independent faculty research.
Miller, who works as a Berks Learning Factory assistant, said he was inspired when he discovered a 3D printer in Wiggins-Lopez’ classroom during his Engineering Design 100 class as a freshman in 2015.
The 3D printer Miller is now using is a Fortus 900mc which has a build volume of 3 feet by 2 feet by 3 inches, very large for a 3D printer. “It allows us to use the material, ULTEM 9085, which is low cost, versatile and easily accessible. The prosthetic itself is 2 feet tall, 6 inches wide and 9 inches thick. I sized it to fit my own 6-foot-1-inch frame,” Miller explained.
Miller’s carbon fiber equivalent, fitness-style prosthetic for transtibial amputations is produced with FDM (fused deposition modeling) 3D printing, an additive manufacturing method possible with the Fortus printer. FDM and other additive manufacturing technologies are expanding rapidly, especially for medial applications, including for making devices such as hip joints and knee and jaw replacements.
Miller hopes his sustainable and green design will result in an option that makes prosthetic lower limbs easier to produce, more available, more affordable and more comfortable. “I estimate mine will cost about $5,000, versus as much as $70,000. That should help those without insurance coverage and on lower incomes.”
According to his business plan, a person needs to get a new prosthetic every three to five years due to physical changes and could spend in excess of $1 million over his or her lifetime. “With my design, a patient can get individual parts instead of an entire leg. And, the use of 3D scanning technology allows for a more accurate fit, which is good for the user, and saves on manufacturing costs, including less material, reduced production time and fewer rejects.”
Wiggins-Lopez said, "I am proud of the work that Eric has done on the 3D printers, on campus. Penn State Berks has a Mark Forged-Mark Two, Formlabs-Form II, 5 MakerBot-Minis and a Stratasys-uPrintSE. All of our 3D printers are used in the classroom environment and for research projects.
“Eric used both, the Mini and uPrint for prosthesis prototypes and many other projects. Xometry was contracted to print the prosthetic leg on the Fortus 900mc, due to the size and material constraints of the 3D printers on campus. In the fall semester, he'll be adding ergonomic elements to the prosthetic leg, using our SLA printer."