Innovation Boosting project with Ugani improves low-cost prosthetics for developing countries
Ugani Prosthetics is a Flemish social startup whose mission is to bring down the prices of prosthetics. This makes them more broadly accessible for people in low-income countries. Lean management, supply chain optimization, frugal innovation, and digitalization are some of the techniques used to accomplish this goal.
A prosthetic consists of several components. At the bottom, there is an artificial foot, followed by a connector, a shin pylon, another connector, and then the socket, which is the connection with the residual limb. Ugani already improved the socket by using 3D technology, scanning the limb and then 3D printing a custom socket. This technique lowered the price and the delivery time while increasing the comfort for the patient.
Next up was the shin tube with its connectors on both sides. Today, these are sold by many international players at prices ranging from hundreds to thousands of euros. After some early brainstorming within the Ugani team, they called on the expertise of Flanders Make to help out in the further development in an Innovation Boosting project, supported by the VLAIO (Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship) grants.
Ugani got in contact with our coworkers from Flanders Make@VUB, specializing in the design, innovation, and development of human-robot interactions in general, while also applying this knowledge in prosthetic devices. This was a good fit with Ugani to further develop the prototype from their 30 years of experience.
As our engineers started sifting through existing research, the Ugani team left for Benin to better understand the local needs and production environment.
Throughout the project, multiple design iterations were made. Most were too weak, too expensive, or too complex to be produced locally. And all those factors are obviously important, because we want these prosthetics to last without a need for maintenance, available at low cost and avoid the need for expensive machinery to manufacture them.
Our team at Flanders Make and the team at Ugani went through various iterations. In our lab, we tested the proposals for torque, load and durability. With state-of-the-art test equipment we subjected parts of the prothesis to all kinds of stress to make sure it would hold up. Meanwhile, the team of Ugani tested the proposals in the field in Benin, to make sure the parts could be produced locally and the end users were satisfied with the results. Eventually, we hit the sweet spot of durability, affordability and simplicity.
“Ndọtị” was born, a prosthetic shin with connectors that can be produced anywhere, with standard materials that are widely available. It requires only minimal and easy welding while still satisfying all strength requirements. It offers the same amount of adjustability and comfort as existing alternatives. But most importantly, the final price of Ndọtị lies between 10 and 20 euros.
Ugani produced a few of these units and handed them over to African patients who had already received a prosthetic. Their reaction was simply: “I feel or see no difference at all”. For most products, hearing this would be a disappointment. But for this low-cost product, it is all the team wanted to hear.
Dennis Janssen - Communication Officer
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