Victorian HSP family the motivation
Aaron Nguyen, an industrial designer from Victoria has relatives with HSP. They are the inspiration behind his concept and design of an ankle foot orthotic (AFO) that previously won the James Dyson Award for design 2021 and has now taken out the student design prize in the Victorian Premier’s Design Awards for 2021. Aaron studied industrial design at the Royal Melbourne Institute of technology (RMIT).
The LUNA Modular AFO is a new approach to Ankle Foot Orthosis design, targeted at young and growing individuals with Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP).
AFOs aid individuals’ ability to walk but do not account for growing users, especially children. The LUNA Modular AFO uses a new modular design that allows the device to adapt and conform with the growing child.
Aaron said “Having grown up with two relatives with Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), I quickly realised current orthoses largely ignored growing users.
The project seeks to design a holistic solution that modularly grows and adapts with the user—additionally designing for the orthotists by integrating better fabrication processes and technology to create more consistently accurate AFOs.
Aaron started with an in-depth investigation into children’s common symptoms and conditions with Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP).
The information gathered established a base understanding of the physiological and biomechanical requirements of the design solution. He also investigated existing AFOs.
An opportunity was seen for AFOs to use better technology, fabrication processes and clever design techniques like modularity and computerised generative design to create a superior solution, together with the initial concept to use modular components to conform to growing children.
Aaron then reached out to Physiotherapists, Osteopaths, Child Orthotists and Biomechanical Engineers who played a vital role in the design process.
Local and international fabricators were contacted to identify the ideal material and process and collaborated with the project to create a full-scale functioning prototype.
The LUNA Modular AFO is a complete redesign and reimagining of Ankle Foot Orthosis (AFO) systems. Currently, there are two common types of AFOs; affordable “One Size Fits All” solutions that lack support or more expensive custom fabricated solutions that provide optimal support.
The intuitive and tool-less modular design uses a “One Size Fits Many” backbone and uses modularly attached 3D printed components to offer the user customisation and optimal support. The modular system allows the device to grow with the user, adapt to their condition and be repaired when damaged. A traditional AFO will fit a child for 6-8 months on average, and the LUNA Modular AFO extends this to 2-3 years.
The LUNA AFO reduces weight and allows for visual and aesthetic personalisation, including the child’s name, contact information and graphics of their preference.
The LUNA AFO also champions user safety and med-tech innovation with consideration for first aid and user comfort. The sustainably sourced nylon polymer used in the additive manufacturing components has been engineered into a semi-flexible material, allowing the design to be both rigid in supportive areas and soft and flexible in sensitive areas.
The softening of sensitive areas minimises cuts, bruised and blisters, providing the child with a better quality of life, a vital aspect of the design brief.
The hallmark innovation with the LUNA Modular AFO is the modular system that allows the device to grow with the user, adapt to their condition and be repaired if damaged.
Features include the first aid keyhole allowing first responders to care for the user without taking off the AFO and possibly worsening the injury or the use of semi-flexible plastics to soften sensitive areas to reduce AFO related injures.
The genuinely groundbreaking innovation is the Shapechange Feature, which is part of the design that physically morphs and visually indicates when the AFO is too small and requires an upgrade.
Design Impact, Circular design and Sustainability
A traditional AFO will fit a child for 6-8 months on average, meaning that between infancy and young adulthood, they can use up to 28 pairs of AFOs and cost up to $30,000. From an environmental perspective, the current AFOs are mainly fabricated from non-renewable thermoplastics, and the one-piece design often means that damage can render them redundant before their end-of-life.
Conversely, the new modular approach reduces waste by using fewer AFOs between infancy and young adulthood and less material between upgrades. The modular design also allows the entire device to be repaired by the user/clinician when damaged.
Furthermore, the modular components use sustainably sourced nylon polymer made from flax seeds which can be recycled entirely. The polymer can be heated and ground back into the raw materials and reused to produce more components in the end-of-life phase.
The project was developed by:
- Aaron Nguyen – Industrial Designer
- Darren Tan – Biomechanical Engineer
- Jarrod Cahir – Orthotist
- Dr Giuliano De Antonis – Osteopath
- Emma Luke – Honours Supervisor
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SOURCE: Victorian Premier’s Design Awards – Best in Category Student Design 2021
Luna Modular AFO
Aaron Nguyen / Darren Tan – Biomechanical Engineer / Jarrod Cahir – Orthotist / Dr Giuliano De Antonis – Osteopath / Emma Luke – Honours Supervisor