Crack, crack, crack, crack and crack. In Spain, in a medium-sized hospital, around five fractures are treated a day, according to several consulted orthopedists. Of these, at least two require a cast. Multiply that figure by all the health centers in the country and you will reach an overwhelming number: hundreds of patients in a cast a day, with an immobilized, rigid limb that sometimes itches and causes discomfort . A humble problem, but at the same time gigantic.
The industrial engineer fell into this Raquel Serrano Lledó, from 31 years and a native of Alhaurín de la Torre (Málaga), co-founder of Fiixit, a company that produces custom 3D printed splints, submersible, weighing ten times less than plaster and with a reticular shape that allows the skin to breathe. This translates into a simpler life for these patients, mostly children, who can easily dive into the sea and the pool, scratch if they please, wash comfortably and move more freely. designs are customizable and have a more modern aesthetic than traditional orthopedics, which give the wearer a somewhat robotic appearance. For example, the little ones carry engravings of the movies The Paw Patrol or Batman in his arms. “It is more human. They feel less different and participate in the design ”, says the engineer.
The company is made up of five colleagues and friends who, as Serrano Lledó says , have shaken the market for orthoses – which she summarizes as the fasteners that wrap a limb and supports that help stabilization – starting from an existing product. “We have revolutionized the sector, but we have not invented anything. Splints were already made, but in a more traditional way, with other materials and other aesthetics, and it took a long time ”, he says. In their career they have won awards for entrepreneurship such as the M of Malaga or the medal for Civil Merit in 2019. From their workshop they have attended to the requests of thousands of patients and designed hundreds of pieces per year distributed to more than 50 orthopedics from all over the country. The essence of its success stems from the ability to detect a small daily problem, which affects thousands of citizens, and solve it with technology and ingenuity in a sector as tight and traditional as orthopedics. They have even reached Silicon Valley, where the engineer presented her project and learned about other business models. “I was amazed because, as soon as we arrived, they already wanted to buy us and for us to go to the United States,” he laughs. “But it never crossed our minds to sell the company, getting me out of Malaga costs a lot.”
The splints, made with PLA, a biodegradable and harmless derivative Of crops such as corn, and coated with EVA, a type of rubber common in orthopedics, they are generally used for common fractures in the legs, arms, hands or fingers. But they are also used in other cases, such as immobilization of a limb after a delicate operation or as a complement to the rehabilitation of an injury that affects mobility. Serrano Lledó recalls the story of a motorcyclist who fell with 18 years and the nightstand shattered his arm. Some time later, when his health had improved, the boy wanted to ride a bike, one of his passions, but he needed a splint that would facilitate the support of his insensitive hand on the handlebars. The applications of Fiixit’s design go beyond trauma: they have conceived tailor-made seats for children with nervous system involvement or youngsters with achondroplasia -a disease that causes short limbs-, a solution so that they keep the trunk stable and can watch TV, sit on the beach or be upright without difficulties. “These are the cases that most excite us and we like them,” says the engineer, and details how they made a millimeter piece for a woman whose hand would contract if she did not have a palmar support.
If Fiixit’s work has made you think and you want to collaborate
The boy who scratched himself with a pen
At first, Serrano Lledó studied Forestry Engineering in Madrid. He liked nature and the countryside. “But I was wrong: Geology … What am I doing here studying the stones?”, She remembers, amused. At that time he came across several clues that heralded that his thing was to imagine objects. One was the jeweler who modeled for a computer design class. It had so many little drawers and nooks that it looked like a Swiss army knife. “The teacher hallucinated,” he says. Another, when they asked the students the first thing they would say about a door. “My friends said they would look to see if it was made of wood or metal. I, if it was Baroque, what architectural elements did it have… ”, he narrates with permanent good humor.
Then he called his family and decided to change his career. He returned to Malaga and started Industrial Design. The matter enchanted him from the first moment. “My notes and sketches circulated around the library. I had a domain with my name that my father had given me. And I started uploading them in an orderly way to the web. I just wanted to claim my authorship! ”He exclaims. The page became very popular in the faculty and, thanks to this small project, he achieved an internship in which he came into contact with the design of prototypes. “The computer supports everything, but you have to do it in reality to see if it is useful and works,” he explains. His first order was a chair for children with motor difficulties between the ages of three and five. “At first I felt pressure, but later I realized that it was my thing,” he says.
He then bought his first 3D printer and started making bangles and bracelets. One night, while dining with her boyfriend, at the next table a boy was trying to scratch under the cast with a knife. “I thought: ‘What if instead of bracelets I start making splints?” He recalls. Then he called his cousin, who worked in the world of orthopedics: “He told me to go ahead, that this was the future of orthopedics, but that ‘it is complicated’, that ‘here are foreign multinationals in it’, that ‘how we’re going to get in… ”, he smiles again. Seven years ago. Now they plan to make the leap abroad and, in the future, start the manufacture of prostheses.