• The Next Frontier
    of Disruptive Parts Is Coming

By combining 3D printing with embedded sensor technology and connectivity, companies EOS and Blackbox Solutions created a customizable and smart knee orthosis.

Much has been said about Internet of Things (IoT) and the connectivity of consumer electronics, building infrastructure and also machine parts. EOS, the world’s leading technology supplier in the field of Industrial 3D printing of metals and polymers, strongly believes that the full potential of IoT is brought by intelligently leveraging additive manufacturing (AM), which now allows the integration of intelligent and connected components much easier and also more economic. In fact, the combination of sensor technology, connectivity and additive manufacturing could carry the digitization to applications and business cases that nobody talks about today – yet.

A Unique Solution for a Recurring Challenge

This concept can be proved by one of the most recurring knee injuries: Torn ligaments. Injuries such as torn ligaments usually come with a long recovery period, with a risk of prolonged recoveries and even long-term disabilities. This is usually due to wrong movements and too heavy physical loads on the knee. Giving patients feedback about such misbehavior by not heavily restricting movements would be the solution.

As an answer, the team of EOS Additive Minds specialists developed a knee orthosis together with experts in sensor technology from Blackbox. This first prototype with its smart knee-joint monitoring shows the huge potential of the combination of AM, sensors and connectivity. All of these actions are taken to speed-up the healing time of patients significantly, by giving instant feedback to harmful movements. This approach can be an inspiration for many different industries and can be transferred to numerous other applications.

Developing an AM Smart Orthosis with Connected Knee-Joint Monitoring

When you combine mechanical design elements with embedded electronics such as microcontrollers, sensors and radio frequency (RF) connectivity, we now speak of smart parts. Smart parts enable customized product designs that address the requirements of several user groups in real-time with highly accurate secure data insights.

Additive manufactured smart parts enable numerous additional benefits:

  • Freedom of precision designs
  • Full customization
  • Functional integration of sensors to economical optimize rapid production of specialized customized parts
  • Optimization of the functionality of the physical device for specific end-users.
  • Rapid time-to-market
  • Fast ramp-up of small serial production
  • Agility of production

In this proof-of-concept prototype example, Blackbox Solutions and the Additive Minds team from EOS designed a highly customizable 3D-printed knee orthosis with integrated sensors, data processing capabilities, and RF connectivity. The presented proof-of-concept demonstrates how the different stakeholders in a product’s user ecosystem can gain valuable real-time insight from smart part sensor data and how this data can be turned into stakeholder specific benefits.

The initial requirements were elicited by interviews with all directly or indirectly involved users of the product. Namely, real patients, doctors and end-equipment manufacturers were directly asked what data / information would be helpful to improve the patients experience and doctor’s ability to provide real-time care.

The Result: Full Customization, Full Feedback, Full Security, Full Recovery

The result of the developed prototype is an embedded technical solution that allows both retrofitting legacy orthosis by printing customized housing replacements and direct design-in of fully printed structures. In all use-cases the compact format requires little physical space on the product and thus enables an ergonomic and lightweight end solution. The selected sensor technology for angle and force measurements combines high precision with a contactless approach, which significantly simplifies integration. WiFi and Bluetooth Low Energy communication empowers real-time monitoring and can be controlled either by direct connection of the orthosis to WLAN or the use of a mobile device such as a smartphone as user interface and controller.

Data analysis can either take place on remote secure servers, on a local mobile device application and/or directly on the orthosis device leveraging the integrated embedded computing processor. Importantly, sensitive data can be securely processed locally to meet user privacy requirements and data security needed. The collected information can be accessed, analyzed and secured via tailored interfaces based on the needs and demands of the different user groups.

Based on the application example, embedded electronics and user-interface prototype provided by Blackbox Solutions, EOS further investigated the customization design requirements for a retrofit sensor housing and is continuing the development with additional functionality for an existing orthosis product using a pure 3D-Printed smart part production process.

Battery powered sensor technology and connected software applications will support patients and doctors to real-time monitor the healing process and guide rehabilitation on an individual patient’s requirements. The on-going data collected from smart parts will help equipment manufacturers to get real-time user insights and better data about product performance which allows to refine and advance future designs and features. Health insurance companies and health authorities can use the data to create better statistical reports of health incidents within the active patient base.


This smart-part prototype case study illustrates the additional benefits of additive manufacturing namely freedom of precision designs, functional integration of sensors to economical rapid production of specialized customized parts in relative small quantities while simultaneously optimizing the functionality of the physical device for specific users. The findings of this example can be transferred to other applications and industries as well. The use of smart-parts will help optimize and improve existing or new products to enable new business opportunities and highly satisfying customer experiences.


Expert Article: Smart Parts
Source: EOS
An app conveys the sensor data according to stakeholder specific requirements.
Source: EOS
Knee orthosis with integrated sensors, data processing capabilities, and RF connectivity.
Source: EOS
Embedded electronics gather smart part sensor data.
Source: EOS


Claudia Rupp
Director Global Marketing