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High Tech for a Self-Determined Life

Lukas Kalemba

In the world’s northernmost capital, 400 dedicated people work to give new hope to people with physical handicaps all over the world. One of them is Lukas Kalemba

The accident changed Lukas’ life dramatically. At the age of 19, the young athletic man lost his leg. The loss of his leg clearly limited the possibilities of the adventurous man. The Icelandic prosthetic solutions company Össur gave him back his leg, enabling him to move around without any problems. “My new leg has helped me regain the quality of life that was taken from me back then,” Kalemba says. At the age of 29, he works for Össur.

A life without limitations starts with no room for error

The Icelandic company Össur is striving to enable “A life without limitations.” To fulfill this dream for its customers, the company is relying on three principles: ongoing development, direct contact to people missing limbs such as Lukas Kalemba, and on excellent product quality. A prosthetic leg has to carry the body close to one million steps every year or even more. In order to do so it must not only be safe, but also comfortable. Every single component must deliver what the design demands. Starting from the simple aluminium tube and the critical components made of titanium to the electronic elements for a complete computer-controlled knee prosthetic. Most of the parts for a leg prosthetic are manufactured at the company‘s headquarter in Reykjavik.

The Icelandic company Össur
Össur headquarter in Reykjavik

High-tech for a self-determined life

Reykjavik has become Lukas’ home. He is an orthopaedic technician for Össur, testing new prosthetics and advancing their technology. Lukas’ left leg is powered by a mini-computer, inside an aluminium frame with plastic shell cover. A metal tube connects it to an artificial foot made of two carbon plates bolted together. Lukas also wears a silicone liner on what remains of his thigh. That protects his leg and also provides direct contact to the prosthetic via a pin connector. An electric brake inside the artificial knee replaces the lost muscle‘s weight bearing function. The leg reacts automatically to movement thanks to a computer and a fluid that becomes viscous through electrical impulses. The leg also locks in place and provides support when Lukas uses it to stand. His leg adapts to his natural motion when he walks or runs.

Ásgeir Páll Gústafsson, CMM specialist at Össur

“Our parts must be small and light, but very strong and durable at the same time. This, of course, leaves little room for error.”

Örn Ingvi Jónsson, Director of Management & Operations, and Quality Manager Ásgeir Páll Gústafsson work for "a life without limitations."
Örn Ingvi Jónsson, Director of Management & Operations, and Quality Manager Ásgeir Páll Gústafsson work for "a life without limitations."

Avoiding “Error 45”

Lukas’ leg only works because of its precision. And that precision demands attention to detail and constant machine measurement: “When all production machines are running, we measure at least 17 different parts every hour,” says measuring technician Gústafsson. He and his colleague prepare the required measurement programs and clamping devices so that their colleagues can fit in their workpieces properly and select the corresponding measuring program. The sensor then automatically scans the workpiece and determines the defined form and location data. Manual measuring equipment is going to be gradually eliminated at Össur: “The main problem with manual measurements is something that we call Error 45, or an operator error,” says Gústafsson. “That also takes up time that could be better used elsewhere.” Only the most simple parts are still measured manually at Össur.

Before buying its first coordinate measuring machine in 2004, Össur was not able to measure geometrically complex parts. The elaborate knee components with curved surfaces, for example, were purchased from another company. Össur has grown quite significantly since then. In addition to more lathe and milling machines, the new equipment includes two ZEISS measuring machines that have taken over measuring all necessary details.

Benefitting from the amount of data

Össur diligently documents all optical and manual measuring results. After all, as a manufacturer of medical products, the company must ensure the traceability of its measurement data in accordance with ISO 13485. Up until about six months ago, Gústafsson and his colleagues entered this data in Excel sheets: “At some point in time, we came to the conclusion that we don‘t only want to document this enormous amount of data, but also use it.” For this reason, Össur introduced ZEISS PiWeb software to analyse, assess and graphically display quality and process data in real time. Trends in data sequences can be quickly recognized and visualized, enabling staff members to quickly draw conclusions about machining processes – much faster than in the past.

Gústafsson has a good example for how effective this development is: Before the software introduction, an engineer wrote her thesis at Össur. Her task was to use all the measurement data, and then to find and analyse the ten workpieces that have the highest defect rate. It took her three months; she had to review and analyze every volume product. „With PiWeb, this is only matter of minutes,“ Gústafsson says. The results obtained this way also improve the quality of the company‘s products.

Guðmundur Jakobsson
Guðmundur Jakobsson, CPO Domestic workshop at Össur, explains the customization of an artifical leg.

It is this quality that helps people like Lukas master everyday activities on two legs, moving a million steps, self-determined. “Just because you lose a leg, doesn‘t mean you have to stop living,” Gústafsson says. Sitting in a glass meeting room at Össur, he points to a man walking by: “This is one of our super users, who tests our products for everyday activities.” The man walking by is Helgi Sveinsson – the Icelandic Paralympic world champion javelin thrower, who lost his left leg to bone cancer.

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