Creating Custom Orthotics Using LabVIEW

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"When creating solutions in LabVIEW, you can really focus on the desired results rather than the micro-tasks, such as memory management, required to get there. It’s also “future proof” because NI is continually improving and updating their vision tools. LabVIEW was a natural choice because we were able to salvage existing code while creating a powerful system that can support a range of hardware."

- Dean Mills, Enable Integration

The Challenge:
Developing software and hardware to assist with manufacturing custom, made-to-order orthotics.

The Solution:
Extending the capabilities of the NI LabVIEW software previously developed and taking incomplete software developed by a third party with a limited hardware set to expand hardware capabilities and provide a built-in architecture to facilitate future software upgrades.

Author(s):
Dean Mills - Enable Integration
Ben Zimmer, CLD and CPI - Enable Integration

Enable Integration

Enable Integration, a division of Enable Training and Consulting, Inc. and a National Instruments Silver Alliance Partner, specializes in LabVIEW and provides programming, integration, consulting, and custom LabVIEW training services to clients in a variety of industries. Enable’s LabVIEW developers have backgrounds in a wide range of industries and have experience integrating a large number of devices from NI and third parties.

Enable’s LabVIEW developers have substantial experience extending the capability of existing third-party software. Although it can be inherently risky to take on a software development project with known problems, Enable mitigates that risk through the experience of its developers and its approach to engineering problems.

Variform3D developed its software to aid the orthopedic industry. The software and hardware combination offers multiple methods of physically scanning the exact shape of a patient’s foot for analysis to ultimately create either an .stl file for computer numerical control milling, or forming on its own proprietary system.

The software operator can view a 3D representation of the patient’s foot, along with a statistical analysis of key areas and measurements of the foot. The operator can rotate the image of the patient’s foot to any angle to provide a better view of specific areas on the foot. The software also automates the generation of a prescription for orthopedics, including insurance claim forms, and sends the order directly to an orthopedics manufacturer.

Figure 1. Variform3D Software

Flexibility was a key requirement in the software upgrade. Variform3D wanted to employ several different methods for scanning a patient’s foot within the same software, including flatbed image scanners, 3D cameras, and pin matrices. The pin matrix variation used a bed of movable “pins” on which the patient placed his or her foot. The weight of the foot displaced some of the pins in the matrix. After the impression was made in the pin matrix, it was placed on a scanner that measured the height of the pins. The software interpreted the pin heights into a 3D graph that the software operator could use as a visual aide. This same information helped users generate a medical assessment of the patient’s foot and provided assistance in selecting the proper corrective orthotic.

The original code used machine vision tools developed by a third party to analyze the pin matrix and flatbed scanner images. The customer wanted to extend and improve the software’s analysis capabilities, so Enable introduced the NI Vision Development Module to the project. The NI Vision Development Module provided a much more expansive toolset as well as improved hardware drivers. This addition played a key role in expanding and refining the statistical analysis of the scanned images.

Developers also incorporated additional flexibility with the addition of an administrative login. When logged in with administrative rights, the operator has additional access to the adjustments that can affect the shape of the custom orthotic. The operator can also access advanced settings to make changes to the system itself, including the customer lists, calibration, default fees, and software personalization. This means qualified personnel can adjust and customize the details of the exact type of orthotic the system will generate. These adjustments are meant to be performed by medically-qualified personnel.  

Additionally, users can now customize and localize the software itself, so it can be used by other offices with different patients, different doctors, and even different foot scanning hardware.

Figure 2. Advanced Settings

For this project, Enable Integration used object-oriented programming principals and architectures in LabVIEW, including the dynamic dispatch of VIs to facilitate the creation of a hardware abstraction layer.  

Performing analysis on large images is a processor-intense operation. The NI Vision Development Module optimizes many of these functions for multicore installations. When combined with other optimizations that Enable included in the development, the software performs a complex analysis on a large dataset in a small amount of time. These changes contributed to a noticeable improvement over the original software. We also spent development time creating a solid installer so the customer can distribute software easily for future installations.

The main development phase of this software is complete and the customer has several systems in operation and is looking to expand further.

Further information on Variform3D and the commercial application of NI tools in the orthopedic industry is available at www.variform3d.com.

Author Contact Information:
Ben Zimmer, CLD and CPI, Enable Integration
ben@enabletc.com
905-864-1858 x142
300 Bronte St. S., Unit 1
Milton, Ontario
Canada, L9T 1Y8

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