Technology and life sciences meet

Bringing about a revolution in arm support. That was the target that Focal Meditech set for itself six years ago. By listening carefully to the needs of the end user, Darwing has become a device that meets the requirements of ideal arm support on many fronts.

ocal has twenty years of experience in arm support. The demand for an arm support with a greater functional range and the ability to hover freely above a table top was increasing. The users also wanted a compact design, so that the arm support would not take up extra space on a wheelchair. In addition, the users wanted to be able to adjust the settings of the arm support themselves. In summary: the users wanted their natural freedom of movement back.

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A lot of research

Focal Meditech has done a lot of research into balancing technology and asked itself the question how one could make an arm levitate in space. Six prototypes were built, each with a different underlying idea. The developers came to the conclusion that none of the prototypes lived up to the Focal standard. The breakthrough that would be the ‘double balancing system’ happened one Friday afternoon when the entire R&D team had gathered together. It suddenly came to them: the division of an arm into a forearm and an upper arm should be reflected in the arm support. Until then, everyone had assumed that the mass of the arm should be balanced in its entirety. It was a true eureka moment, during which they saw things just a little differently from the rest of the world.

Durability

Darwing has been extensively tested for durability. The reliability of the device is of vital importance, since missing the arm support is very disruptive for the user. Focal has created an installation that has taxed all components millions of times. It soon became clear that the force transmitting straps ruptured too easily. After an intensive search, a material was found that is used in bulletproof vests and in ports for lifting cargo. An extremely strong and flexible material that offered an extra advantage: the mechanism could be made even more compact.

Design

From the start, the developers had the objective to create a compact and unobtrusive arm support. They were able to do so by using modern materials and ingenious mechanisms: Darwing takes up virtually no space on a wheelchair. Furthermore, it is important to the users that their arm support looks appealing. To that end, Focal collaborated with artist and industrial designer Marcel Bastiaans. By incorporating flowing lines in the device, he gave it a calm, smooth appearance.

Proud

The entire Darwing team feels immensely proud. They consider the best part to be that they can now help people who could not be helped before. There are even applications for Darwing that they themselves had not yet considered. A woman with spasms derives stability and safety from Darwing. A boy with a spinal cord injury is able to eat, drink and scratch his head again.

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Background

Dynamic arm supports are characterised by the fact that they are attached to the user on one side and to the fixed world on the other. They are attached the body and are controlled by it. Consequently, they meet all the characteristics of an orthosis: with regard to user-related knowledge, user-related make-to-fit technology. In American systems of classification, for example, this little studied category is therefore considered as such.

Long search

The search for technological solutions to support the human arm has been ongoing for hundreds of years. The first serial production took place around 1935 in the United States. Dynamic arm supports only gained real name in the 1950’s, at the time of the polio epidemic, in the United States once more. They remained in use to a small extent, but a real breakthrough failed to materialise. This has everything to do with the complexity of the human arm and hand. Until recently, we were barely capable to efficiently support or replace these functions. It is a very knowledge-intensive field, the knowledge that existed was not adequate and the materials we currently use were not yet available.

Further development

Focal Meditech has already been supplying dynamic arm supports since 1992. It has contributed greatly to the further development of dynamic arm supports. Focal Meditech virtually reinvented this category of devices. The first offspring of this production line consisted of the Top/Help which is available in both a electro-assisted and a non-assisted version. This product has undergone extensive further development and serves hundreds of users year after year. The next product to be developed was the Sling, an arm support in which the arm is suspended and that uses counterweights to balance the arm. This product is also available in an electrically powered version. The Sling has been further developed as well, and has proven its merit many times. The Balancer is a simpler, slimline arm support by Focal in which the arm is also balanced while being suspended.
All products are characterised by their very precise construction and by high-quality components that ensure that the users experience only minimal resistance. This also makes these products highly durable – it is not unusual for these products to last for five or more years.

Darwing

With regard to Darwing, much development has been taking place recently. This device could only come about thanks to Focal Meditech’s years of experience in developing and creating such products. The company gains a lot of knowledge from its daily interaction with users, both on a national and an international level. The users are the real experts here. They are the only ones who can tell us what they experience during use and which solution literally offers them the best support.