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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Startup receives $400,000 prize for business idea

TriFusion
Photo by Provided
TriFusion

A $400,000 prize will turn an Aggie student startup into an international operation. 
After winning the grand prize at the Rice Business Plan Competition, the startup TriFusion Devices plans to begin producing prosthetics to be delivered internationally.
Brandon Sweeney, materials science and engineering doctoral candidate and TriFusion Devices’ chief technology officer, and Blake Teipel, materials science and engineering doctoral candidate and TriFusion Devices’ co-founder and chief executive officer, have created a way to improve 3-D printing by using materials to fuse plastic layers together in a new way.
“We invented a new 3D printing method, that takes something that kinda worked and makes it really work,” Sweeney said.
A proposal was submitted to the competition in December and of the nearly 700 teams considered, TriFusion was one of 42 invited to the final presentation. After four rounds of judging, the playing field was whittled down to six teams with TriFusion taking the grand prize. 
Teipel said the team would not have been successful without the Aggie network and the connections among colleges across campus.
“We went to the stage about four or five times to receive different awards and every time we did, we heard the, ‘Whoop,’ and we heard the Aggies,” Teipel said. “And it felt amazing to feel like the hometown kids who were able to show the whole world what the Aggies can do.”
Teipel said the company, which was founded in January, designs and manufactures wearable prosthetic and orthotic devices. Teipel said innovations in the field of wearable technology can impact society greatly. 
“We think the technology can not only improve the lives of amputees: men, women, children and veterans, but we think the technology can also help reduce traumatic brain injury, CTE from football collisions and so on,” Teipel said.
Sweeney said 3-D printing works like a hot glue gun, layering slices of material until the desired part is recreated.
“You take a solid plastic material and you feed it through this nozzle that’s heated up exactly like a hot glue gun and it squirts out a profile of one layer of the part that you’re building and this is all on a robotic arm, basically, that scales back and forth in x and y, and then moves up in z, which builds your part up,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney said although 3-D printing has been around for several decades, it has faced a dilemma of plastic layers not bonding correctly. This is due to the material cooling too quickly and the excess heat required to seal it would cause the part to melt. Sweeney and Teipel fixed this issue by applying carbon nanotubes to the exterior of the filament they print with.
“We apply a microwave heat treatment that only heats up that thin layer, the carbon nanotube coating. The plastic itself it remains cool so your part doesn’t turn into a puddle of molten plastic and you really focus a high intensity microwave field from an applicator aimed at that part that you just printed, which causes a local fusion, welding process,” Sweeney said.
An advantage the team has is that its product can be produced overnight while today’s prosthetic technology takes on average four to eight weeks to go from design to the user, Teipel said.
“We can go from design to fabrication to fitment in 48 hours, so the whole process, instead of 40 days, can be done in only two,” Teipel said. “It’s a big improvement for the user who’s waiting for a leg before they can walk. Now they don’t have to wait one to two months, they can wait one to two days.”
Teipel said the plan is to deploy 50 devices in the next 12 months and then continue to expand with the help of local clinics in the Brazos Valley and others across the state. 

“So we can say by June 2017 we hope to have 50 prosthetic devices in the world, literally walking around in the world,” Teipel said. “Fifty is just a starting place, but we’re gonna work with the Baylor College of Medicine, the V.A. in Houston, the V.A. in Dallas and three other private clinics, including Central Texas Orthotics and Prosthetics here in Bryan-College Station.”

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