Apropos K

Fibre-reinforced plastics make orthioses lighter and more flexible

Orthioses are sometimes too stiff and can lead to pressure sores. The materials that Dr Markus Brzeski produces at his start-up “A+ Composites” are flexible and lighter while being stronger than steel at the same time. At the Institute for Composite Materials that is part of Kaiserslautern Technical University, he has developed a process that is inexpensive and saves material, with which orthioses as well as prostheses can be manufactured in exact compliance with customers’ specifications. Fibre-reinforced plastic is the material he uses in this context.

Orthioses increase people’s quality of life considerably. They provide support, relief or stability. They help, for example, in the case of knee or spine misalignments. However, if they do not fit properly, they can, for example, exert pressure and cause skin irritation. Sores can develop as a result. “With our process, we can produce orthioses that only provide strength at the desired places and are lighter into the bargain”, says Markus Brzeski, who is marketing the technology at his start-up A+ Composites, a spin-off from Kaiserslautern Technical University.

Markus Brzeski has developed a material-saving process that allows orthoses, but also prostheses, to be manufactured exactly according to customer requirements. A robot takes the plastic layer by layer into the desired shape. Image:Technische Universität Kaiserslautern

In the context of his doctoral thesis, the young entrepreneur developed a process with which he produces innovative new reinforced plastics. “We use a thermoplastic that has a similar consistency to viscous honey”, says the engineer. This plastic is combined with carbon fibres. The special composition of the materials is the key factor here, as Brzeski explains with the help of an example: “The basic principle is as if every hair on one’s head is enclosed in honey. Every single fibre is enclosed by plastic in this way.” 

The plastic has numerous different properties thanks to this material blend: “It is stronger than steel, while being substantially lighter and flexible at the same time”, the engineer says. “It is therefore particularly suitable for making orthioses.” Processing of the plastic can continue as soon as it has cooled down. The team headed by Brzeski uses a robot for this purpose, which gives the plastic the required shape directly, layer by layer. This process is carried out automatically. The intermediate stages that are needed in conventional production processes are eliminated. “A computer program specifies the shape and the required number”, Brzeski continues. “One of the advantages of our technology is that it saves material and thus up to 80 per cent of the costs.” He points out that it is as a result also worthwhile manufacturing products in small quantities. Orthioses for knees, legs or the back can be produced in customised form with this process, for example: back supports that are designed to relieve the spine require less material, for instance. “It provides specific support – only at the points where this is necessary”, the engineer says. “Material is not required at other points. This makes the orthioses more comfortable for the patient to wear. It increases medical effectiveness as well.” 

The technology is of interest to the automotive or transport industries too, e.g. to produce special parts for vehicle bodies that have to withstand high pressure or temperatures of 200 to 250°C, which are high for plastics. Another advantage is extremely high resistance to chemicals, which makes the material exceptionally durable. The young entrepreneur is presenting the technology on the joint Rhineland-Palatinate stand at Medica in Düsseldorf. 

The start-up is receiving funding via the EXIST research transfer programme run by the German Ministry of Economics.

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He is presenting the technology on the joint Rhineland-Palatinate stand (Hall 7a, Stand B06) at the Medica medical technology trade fair from 14. to 17. November.