3D-printed thumb aids car assembly at BMW

Workers at a BMW assembly line have tested – and liked – an artificial thumb produced by 3D printing that helps reduce excess strain on the thumb joints.

For car manufacturing workers, the thumb is strained more than any other finger. Day in, day out it must bear heavy loads – literally.

Christin Hölzel, a PhD student from the Technische Universität München (TUM) had an idea: A support for the thumb that reduces strain on the joints. Assembly line workers at the BMW Group’s Munich plant gave their ‘thumbs up’ for the invention, which is now being deployed in a BMW pilot project.

Thumbs do four times the work of the other fingers during manual production. A good example is car assembly, where plug seals made of rubber are pressed into the floor pan with great force. They are used, among other things, to close drain holes for the paint coat.

Pressing on the plugs can lead to an overextension of the thumb joint. “Imagine the way a thumbnail is pressed into a wall with great force. The thumb bends in a backwards arch and the joints are overextended,” explains Veit Senner, who heads TUM’s research on sport equipment and materials.

Of course, pressing once is not a problem – but the workers at the BMW Group production line repeat this motion hundreds of times. “Over time, this can harm the joint,” says Senner.

Source: Technologist

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