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5Engineering Students Develop Revolutionary Prosthetics Technologies Using Advanced Plastics

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Power Engineering

Quadrant Engineering Plastic Products is proud to introduce NONSPEC, a talented group of engineering students from the University of Massachusetts Lowell, who are developing breakthrough prosthetics technologies aimed at making arm and hand devices. These students just may revolutionize the prosthetics industry by utilizing medical grade plastics to take the place of heavier and more expensive metal components for the skeletal portion of the prosthesis. Their innovations have yielded an advanced device that can be manufactured for a much lower cost, making them more financially accessible to patients -- especially within the pediatric prosthetics market.

It all began over one year ago when the group of Jonathan Perez de Alderete, Erin Keaney, Olivia Keane, Katherine Cain and Brendan Donoghue enrolled in their school's "DifferenceMaker" Program which challenges students to solve real problems and help real people. Acting in a business incubator capacity, the University then provides the necessary support and resources for the students to achieve innovation through entrepreneurial action.

Driven by their slogan "Give a hand, change a life," the NONSPEC team began by evaluating the functionality and cosmetic deficiencies in the most common pediatric claw-type devices. Then they began development on a prototype designed to be more durable and cosmetically appealing, functional like a real hand, addressed growth adjustment, yet was inexpensive to produce. The device can be weighted to allow a patient to develop balanced muscles and a normal spinal curve. "Our design is unique because it can expand to fit a child as they grow which greatly reduces the purchase of multiple devices while maintaining a natural shape and feel. Children outgrow prosthetics like they would shoes," said Jonathan Perez de Alderete, NONSPEC team CEO and Mechanical Engineering student. 

The first prototype was operated via a computer system, using components from children's toys, string, and Play-Doh®. From this initial testing phase, their innovations were born. "I have a philosophy that no part should do one task. So, we stripped the design down to increase functionality with a critical eye on only using parts that served more than one purpose," says Perez de Alderete. "By using advanced injection molded plastics, we increased quality and traceability. That, in addition to eliminating unnecessary parts, reduces manufacturing cost which means less cost to patients," says Erin Keaney, NONSPEC team Vice President and Plastics Engineering student.

While the majority of hand and arm prosthetics can cost upwards of a few hundred to even thousands of dollars, NONSPEC aims to bring their devices to market at $20 per unit. According to Perez de Alderete, "Especially with this level of cosmetic appeal and functionality our price point may be shocking to the prosthetics industry, but our goal is not to undercut the market. Our goal is to enter the market quickly and help those in need."

In material selection, the NONSPEC team relied upon the expertise of the Life Sciences division of plastics distributor, Total Plastics Inc, and advanced plastics and polymer manufacturer, Quadrant Engineering Plastic Products. Originally considering PEEK materials, distributor expertise and support from Quadrant's online Material Selection Tool helped the team find a more appropriate solution. "From a mechanical engineering background I never thought plastics would work. It was Erin, with help from Total Plastics, who discovered that using Quadrant® PC 1000 (polycarbonate) and Quadrant® Nylon 101 PA66 materials cut the weight by 1/3rd, was more versatile, and was stronger and more durable during machining than aluminum," says Perez de Alderete. "Partnering with key plastics distributors and manufacturers who help match the perfect material to the application allows us to achieve exactly what we wanted, verses having to design around the limitations of materials like aluminum or alloys," says Keaney. Their hard work was honored in claiming First Prize at the International Association of Plastics Distribution (IAPD), Plastics Application Design Competition in Miami, Florida on October 2, 2013.

Currently in the testing stage, they hope to launch clinical trials by early 2014, while finishing their remaining college classes. To aid in their progress, donations are accepted through the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, DifferenceMaker Program. Connect with NONSPEC to inquire about clinical trial participation and socially on Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+.