Though the Vietnam War ended 47 years ago, buried in Vietnamese soil, thousands of unexploded land mines, grenades and cluster bombs continue to injure or kill people. There are 100,000 amputees requiring prosthetics in Vietnam and about 80% are from landmines. Till today, 2,000 people are stepping on live landmines every year. In 2018, two expatriates founded Vulcan Augmetics, a social enterprise startup that utilized 3D printing and injection molding to create customizable and upgradable prosthetics. Its goal is to support amputees in developing countries and lower the cost of prosthetics.
In developed nations, most amputees have access to social assistance and medical insurance covered by the legislation. In contrast, 95% of amputees in Vietnam have to support their own lives, with unemployment high up to 70%.
Rafael Masters and Akshay Sharma founded Vulcan Augmetics in 2018. One of their inspirations to start the company Vulcan Augmetics is to subsidize Vietnamese amputees with accessibility to high-functioning prosthetics when they lack quality insurance coverage.
Vulcan Augmetics combines traditional metal frames with plastic parts made through 3D printing. The innovation in filled materials controls prices of prosthetics at $1,100, making them more affordable than most prosthetic arms that cost $2,600 on average, explained Masters to KrASIA.
Another advantage of Vulcan Augmetics is to give amputees a say in developing artificial limbs, augmenting them to meet their own needs.
Rather than offering traditional fixed prosthetics, the company designed and produced flexible components for modifying and upgrading. Vulcan’s prosthetics plug and click together like Lego pieces, enabling rearrangement to suit the daily demands of a given occupation or task, according to KrASIA.
For the base model, there is also an adjustable mechanical device inside the hand with multiple functions, providing users the ability to do daily chores, said Masters to KrASIA. Going through the cheap and efficient entry-level ones, customers can upgrade to advanced models for more possibilities in life and work.
Till 2021, Vulcan has partnered with 17 major hospitals and clinics with orthotic and prosthetics services in Vietnam, offering new prosthetics to 32 people in need. It targets to have at least 50 users per month in 2022 and aggrandize its business to other regions in Southeast Asia, according to Youth Colab.
Positioning itself as a social enterprise, Vulcan Augmetics lists prices and detailed product information upfront on its website, so potential buyers can know what options are available no matter where they are.
For startups aiming to break down barriers to artificial limbs worldwide, this decentralized approach helps place the customer at the forefront. People no longer have to approach hospitals and clinics to find a prosthetic, but getting to see product options and collaborate in building prosthetics online without geographic hurdles.
Vulcan Augmetics plans to develop product lines for people with paralysis or weak muscles, and those without disabilities want to be more durable and flexible in special physical activities. For a long-term goal, the company wishes to serve 38 million disabled people globally in addition to providing prosthetics in Vietnam, according to KrASIA.
– Shiyu Pan