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

The LUNA Modular AFO is an Ankle Foot Orthosis system designed to grow with young children with Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia.

The LUNA Modular AFO is a new approach to Ankle Foot Orthosis design, targeted at young and growing individuals with Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP). HSP is a degenerative condition that progressively removes the individual’s ability to control their lower limbs.

Individuals with this condition have to use tight-fitting plastic braces called Ankle Foot Orthosis (AFOs). AFOs aid individuals’ ability to walk but do not account for growing users, especially children, causing cuts and bruises as they grow. The LUNA Modular AFO uses a new modular design that allows the device to adapt and conform with the growing child.

Design Brief

Having grown up with two relatives with Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), I quickly realised current orthoses’ poor consideration to growing users. In the initial stages, the project followed the design process and established a clear field of practice and design brief through thorough research.

The rigid thermoplastic forms used to create the AFOs are intentionally tight fitting to give the user the optimal support. However, with growing users, especially children, it often leads to bruising, blistering and cuts. After interviews and collaboration with industry professionals, I discovered that the issue extends further than ill-fitting braces.

The problem stems from systematic flaws in the fabrication process, which heavily rely on the skills and experience of the orthotist/fabricators.

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.


This project was developed by:

  • Aaron Nguyen
  • Darren Tan - Biomechanical Engineer
  • Jarrod Cahir - Orthotist
  • Dr Giuliano De Antonis - Osteopath
  • Emma Luke - Honours Supervisor

Design Process

The LUNA Modular AFO project started the design process with the research phase. The project began 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. Additionally, I also investigated existing AFOs and closely related solutions like physiotherapy braces through SWOT analysis and autopsies.

This revealed inconsistencies between the high-cost AFOs, which are much simpler in design and materials usage relative to the closely related solutions. Alluding to an opportunity for AFOs to use better technology, fabrication processes and clever design techniques like modularity and computerised generative design to create a superior solution.

With this knowledge, the project developed an initial concept to use modular components to conform to growing children. The project then used this initial concept as a foundation to reach out and converse with industry professionals – Physiotherapists, Osteopaths, Child Orthotists and Biomechanical Engineers.

These interviews were crucial in confirming and correcting previous research. The industry contacts would continue to play a vital role in the design process, especially when integrating new fabrication processes into existing workflows.

The LUNA Modular AFO began physical development through an iterative process of ideation sketches, physical prototyping, CAD modelling and further prototyping with analysis steps supporting design decisions between each cycle.

These analysis steps consisted of user journey mapping, service mapping, subsequent interviews with industry professionals, material analysis and autopsies. 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.

Ultimately, the iterative process allowed the project to consider all aspects of the design, from the orthotists to the end-user, providing a holistic design approach to the design solution.

Design Excellence

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.

For a child with Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia, AFOs can become a lifelong companion. The LUNA AFO uses a simple and timeless design that Topology Optimisation/Generative Design processes have influenced to reduce weight and add visual elements. Furthermore, the design 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.

Design Innovation

The project started after witnessing the state of AFOs and their poor consideration for growing children. Working closely with local professionals like osteopaths and orthotists, it is clear that they are empathic to their clientele but are currently limited by the available solutions and their access/knowledge of technology.

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. However, the modularity was already a goal set in the design brief; the innovative features were discovered through the design process and working with the industry professionals.

Features like 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.

Currently, it is very difficult to judge when the AFO is too small because children with HSP have limited sensation in their lower limbs, leaving it to the orthotist’s judgment. Without feeling the fitment themselves, they have to resort to stop-gap solutions like smearing lipstick on the child’s leg to get an impression on the AFO.

The Shapechange Feature empowers the user and their parental guardians to understand the AFO’s fitment and proactively upgrade the AFO rather than regular checks with the orthotists or when the child starts getting AFO related injuries.

Design Impact

Every three weeks, a child is born with Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia, and for most of these children, AFOs will become lifelong companions. The LUNA Modular AFO is a holistic solution that is empathetic to them by improving their quality of life from both a day to day and a long term perspective.

The design also empowers the users and the parent’s through the Shapechange Feature to be proactive with AFO fitment. Additionally, the digitisation of the fabrication process allows the orthotics and fabricators to create more consistently accurate AFOs.

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.

Alternatively, 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.

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.

Alternatively, 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.


Comments from Chair of the Victorian Premier’s Design Awards Jury, Celina Clarke

“Every three weeks, a child is born with Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia, and for most of these children, AFOs will become lifelong companions. The LUNA Modular AFO is a holistic solution that is empathetic to them by improving their quality of life from both a day to day and a long-term perspective.”

Student Design 2021 Finalists

H2 Snow

Tim Lutton

Deeper than thirst

Alysha Magro / Swinburne University of Technology / Swinburne School of Design, Photomedia

Gooey Gut Trail Demystifying Human Gut Health Through Board Game Play

Nandini Pasumarthy / Yi Ling Tai / Dr Rohit Ashok Khot /Dr Jessica Danaher

AddiVent

Aman Bhatti / Benjamin Fraser

Villa Santorini

Jikang Liu / Jiaheng Xu / Weiwei Tong / Xinghang Fu

nDirection System

Devika Panicker / Joseph Jiahao Luo

Crema

Cara Jordan-Miller / RMIT University / Honours Supervisor - Judith Glover / Glass Fabricator - Maureen Williams

Emergency Department Futures

Troy McGee / Monash University Design Health Collab / Daphne Flynn / Selby Coxon / Keith Joe / Cabrini Emergency Department

Nardoo: The Gallery of Aboriginal Art & Landscape

Parisa Bazargani, PARISAIKA / Swinburne University of Technology

Tread Lightly

Anthony Jongen / Swinburne University of Technology / Colcac Otway Shire / Surf Coast Shire

Locus Amoenus

John Power / Billy and Pota Sakkas / Brendan Armstrong / Stewart Haines

House of the Victorian Government Architect

Alessandro Castiglioni / Michael Spooner, RMIT University

Phycoforms

Shimroth John Thomas / Seaweed Solutions CRC-P / Museum of Old & New Art (MONA) / RMIT University

Serene Vibe

Luke Masters / Julian Vilsten - Behavioural Psychologist / Jane Galvin -  Occupational therapist