World-Leading Prosthetics in SOLIDWORKS

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Steeper is a leading manufacturer of innovative prosthetic, orthotic and assistive technology. Based in Leeds, its prosthetic development team has developed some of the world's best upper extremity prosthetics including their bebionic range and natural Skinergy coverings. The company also works in partnership with the NHS in the UK as well as the London Prosthetics Centre to provide cutting-edge prosthetic services.

The Challenge

To build the world's most lifelike bebionic hand for the female, adolescent and Asian market. Steeper's flagship bebionic prosthetic range currently features two hand sizes, large (measuring 200mm from middle finger tip to hand base) and medium (190mm). Market research revealed there was no hi-tech, multi-articulated prosthetics available for the smaller frame.
The challenge for Steeper would be in retaining all the functionality of the medium hand - including strength, robustness, ease-of-use and control - but with a 30 per cent reduction in size.

The Solution

A design team of seven electrical and mechanical engineers worked collaboratively in SOLIDWORKS 3D CAD for all their conceptual and prototype designs of the bebionic small.
The prosthetics team used the full range of the SOLIDWORKS modelling functionality including lofting, surface profiles and splines to produce drawings quickly and easily. The Interference Detection and Mass Properties tools allowed them to set dimensions and work confidently within the confines of the small package spaces.
The key thing was that the team designed the shell of the hand first, and then designed the mechanisms to fit inside and not the other way around. This approach meant they could focus on both functionality and aesthetics equally but to do so they required an integrated workflow between mechanical and electrical.

SOLIDWORKS let them integrate their electronics hardware design in 3D to investigate and solve any component clashes or areas of concern, so with a lot of interactive, collaborative design between the electrical and mechanical teams, some give and take around designing a component around a circuit board or a circuit board needing a bit more space and reducing the chassis to make room, they finally had a solution.

Steeper used SOLIDWORKS PDM Professional to share assemblies work on certain models and crucially to keep all the drawings up to date when a part was changed.

Design validation was handled using SOLIDWORKS Simulation, allowing them to check and investigate any gaps and clearances to make sure there weren't any clashes in the assemblies.

The Results

The bebionic small was launched onto the market two years later. The device uses myoelectrical signals collected from the surface of the user's skin to control movement and individual motors in each finger means the hand can move in a natural, coordinated way.

In 2015 the bebionic small was awarded a British Engineering Excellence award for mechanical product of the year.

  • Enabled Electrical and mechanical integration
  • 30 per cent reduction of complex mechanisms
  • Fluid processes with SOLIDWORKS PDM Professional
  • 80 per cent of design concept in SOLIDWORKS
"80 per cent of our design concept for the bebionic small is done in SOLIDWORKS. The software lets us get knee deep into designing without worrying about the tools we are using."

Ted Varley,
Technical Director, Steeper

"It encouraged a more efficient design and even more integration between the two disciplines of mechanical and electronics, which can only be a good thing."

Martin Wallace,
Senior Mechanical Design Engineer, Steeper