3D printing technology has evolved at a rapid rate over recent years. It has helped industries spanning from automotive to jewelry. For one four-year-old, it has given her a chance to give hugs again.
Emma Lavelle was born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita (AMC). AMC is a congenital disorder that causes joints to be locked in one position. Unfortunately for Emma, no matter how hard she tries she cannot move her arms. Not to eat, draw or scratch.
Until recently, that is.
Researchers were searching for alternatives that could provide Emma’s arms with the support and flexibility required for movement. Early options included a WREX – a Wilmington Robotic Exoskeleton – to help her lift, control, and use her arms, but WREX’s are designed for older, stronger patients. They are made of metal and are more limited in portability and mobility.
"The existing WREX is all metal parts and is kind of big," said Tariq Rahman, a mechanical engineer and head of pediatric engineering and research at Nemours. "Emma was too small for that, so it required something light and small that would attach to her body that would go with her."
Enter 3D printing technology. Its ability to rapidly reproduce parts customized to each project and lightweight, durable printing materials make it perfect for a growing child.
Layer-by-layer researchers and engineers printed a custom “exoskeleton” that wraps around Emma’s body. Attached are arm supports that give Emma’s arms a weightless feel, allowing her to freely move her arms.
Little Emma calls them her “magic arms.”
She has already outgrown her first pair, but don’t worry. Replacement pieces, design improvements and larger parts are only a click away with 3D Printing and CAD file operations.
"Without the 3D printer, we would not be in a position we're in with these younger kids, making them a WREX device that can go with them," said Rahman. "3D printing is great because we can make these (replacement or new parts) in a couple of days. With a metal one, machining takes longer."
Whether it’s eating, moving hair from her face or giving someone a hug, Emma and her family will forever be grateful for her 3D printed arm supports.
According to CNET, there are about 15 other children with similar upper body limitations using “magic arms.”
Check out the video above. It is truly a heartwarming story. Emma has one of the sweetest personalities and most positive outlooks on the planet.