When Sentient Bionics required rapid production of prototype parts for its new robotic hand project, it turned to AMTIL’s Additive Manufacturing Hub (AM Hub) for assistance.

Based in Port Melbourne, Sentient Bionics has been developing anthropomorphic robotic grippers for more than half a decade. During that time the company has worked with prosthetic users, hospitals and industry partners to develop a range of grippers suitable to satisfy everyday human and robotic needs. Familiarity, versatility and affordability are at the core of Sentient Bionics’s ethos, and it has developed hands that allow people and robots to interact in a natural and effective way.

Additive manufacturing has already been a large part of Sentient’s business, giving it the ability to quickly prototype both adult and child-sized prosthetic mechanical hands. Additive manufacturing’s fast development time has allowed Sentient Bionics to start clinical trials and quickly respond to feedback gained through them with helpful and progressive design changes.

While Sentient Bionics specialises in the design and assembly of technology and devices, it has outsourced the manufacturing of components. Although it has some basic desktop fused deposition modelling (FDM) printers in-house, which it uses for rapid prototyping operations, the company gets all the parts that it uses for testing and consumer-level products made professionally by additive manufacturing (AM) service providers.

The challenge

Sentient Bionics accessed the Build It Better (BiB) voucher programme via the Additive Manufacturing Hub (AM Hub) to assist it in initiating a new robotic hand project, as well enhancing the continuation of its prosthetic hand product line. Sentient Bionic’s dynamic design process required several prototype parts to be manufactured quickly so they could be tested and altered according to results, and additive manufacturing was chosen as the primary method of manufacture.

The solution

Sentient Bionics received manufacturing services from two Victorian companies – GoProto (ANZ) Pty Ltd and Objective 3D Pty Ltd – within the scope of its BiB voucher, which covered 50% of the service costs.

AM Hub member GoProto was engaged for a range of additive manufacturing services including:

  • Manufacturing structural and functional parts designed by Sentient Bionics for the robotic and prosthetic hands, including the palm (front and back), internal mechanism and phalanges, using GoProto’s HP Multi-jet Fusion Printing capabilities.
  • Manufacturing various other parts designed by Sentient Bionics required for internally used tools and rigs, as well as parts for several smaller side projects of Sentient Bionics as part of their professional design contract work.

The services received from GoProto reflected Sentient Bionics’s sustainable mindset, through the use of HP MJF PA11 and PA12. Both PA11 and PA12 are high-reusability materials that minimise waste, and PA11 is a renewable raw material produced from vegetable castor oil, resulting in a reduced environmental impact.

Objective 3D, also an AM Hub member, was engaged for services including the manufacture of structural and functional parts of the prosthetic and robotic hands, which require alternative manufacturing methods not supplied by GoProto such as metal 3D printing and Polyjet 3D printing.

The BiB voucher programme would be crucial in allowing Sentient Bionics the capacity to expand its product range, grow its intellectual property (IP), and delve into new industries.

The outcome

With the help of the BiB voucher programme, Sentient Bionics went from a simple, harness-powered prosthetic product with no motor actuation, to a versatile robot gripper capable of integration with existing robotic systems.

Thanks to the financial assistance of the BiB voucher programme and the guidance and expertise of the AM Hub, Sentient Bionics’s research project was able to cut down manufacturing costs significantly. It made it feasible to undertake more development work across one year than Sentient Bionics had previously achieved ever since forming as a company. More engineers were hired, and the company relaunched its website with new content and new products. In addition the team attended more conferences, broke into new industries, and developed promising leads for future collaboration and sales pipelines as a result of networking within the AM Hub community.

Sentient Bionics now sees additive manufacturing playing a crucial role in its future – as its development continues (as it will for a number of years), so do its requirements for a manufacturing method that allows for iterative design changes and high-quality parts. The current designs for its new robotic product rely primarily on additive manufacturing, and the team at Sentient Bionics do not expect that to change anytime soon.

With the help of the AM Hub, Sentient Bionics was able to expand into new industries and markets, and within these new markets demonstrate the benefits of additive manufacturing.

The AM Hub is an initiative delivered by AMTIL in partnership with the Victorian State Government to provide an industry-driven collaborative network of technology users, suppliers and supporters that will promote the adoption of additive manfacturing technology. For more information, please contact John Croft, AM Hub Manager, on 03 9800 3666 or email amhub@amtil.com.au