University of Georgia uses 3D printing to create arm brace for running back Sony Michel

The University of Georgia (UGA) has documented its use of a 3D printer to create an arm brace for running back Sony Michel.

In a short feature video UGA’s Director of Sports Medicine Ron Courson explains how the brace enabled Michel to return to the field following an injury. The segment documents the production of the device at UGA’s College of Engineering which involved both 3D scanning and 3D printing.

The feature, titled ‘Beneath The Helmet: Sony Michel – Recover & Rebuild’, has since been awarded a Southeast Emmy Award for best ‘Sports Program Feature/Segment’.


Gif shows Sony Michel running with his brace on the left forearm. Images via Georgia Bulldogs. 

ATV accident 

During the summer of 2016, Sony Michel broke both forearm bones in an ATV driving accident. The injury was an open fracture which means bone was protruding out of the skin. Michel required surgery and his recovery lasted several months forcing him to miss the opening game of the 2016 season. However when he did return he was aided by his bespoke carbon fiber brace and, as a result, Sony Michel went on to play the remaining 12 games of the 2016 season.

3D printing is the perfect tool for fabricating bespoke medical devices such as braces. This was shown as para athlete Polina Rožkova wore a 3D printed brace last year in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio. Despite this, the UGA College of Engineering opted to use a 3D printed mold to create a the brace in carbon fiber.

The Mobile 3D Printing Centre at UGA"s College of Engineering. Image via Georgia Bulldogs.
The Mobile 3D Printing Centre at UGA”s College of Engineering. Image via Georgia Bulldogs.

3D printed forearm

The brace was constructed out of carbon fiber using 3D scans of Michel’s forearm. Alex Squires, a doctoral candidate at the College of Engineering, explains scanning Sony Michel’s forearm required a different approach to their usual work,

The 3D scanner we have here is designed for more small, compact objects for reverse engineering things. Sony Michel’s forearm is far from a small object and so we had to move the scanner around his arm as opposed to where normally we move small objects in the field of view of the scanner.

Once 3D scanning Michel’s arm, the engineering team 3D printed a mold on the college’s Makerbot 3D printer. From this they were able to construct a unique carbon fiber brace which would cover half of Michel’s forearm to allow the American Football player to still feel the ball on the inside of his arm.

Elsewhere on the football field, 3D printing may play a larger role in the future as MIT develop new material techniques. MIT researchers have fabricated an advanced shock absorbing material that could have significant application in future American football helmets. While at Kent State University, they have been dishing out a unique 3D printed trophy for their 2016 MVP.

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Featured image shows Sony Michel with his carbon fiber brace. Image via Georgia Bulldogs. 

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