VIDEO: World’s most advanced bionic hand

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The precision design and engineering capabilities of a Billingshurst firm has helped make the world’s most advanced prosthetic hand a functional reality.

For the team at Delta Tooling (Horsham) Ltd, based in Daux Road, Billingshurst, the knowledge that their products are transforming the lives of amputees worldwide makes creating parts for the bebionic 3 satisfying and rewarding work.

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“It is a buzz,” said 53 year old company director Luke Tetlow from Southwater. “Especially when you know that you are directly involved with having such an impact on someone’s life.”

Co-director Gary Childs agreed, saying that working with RSLTeeper, the Yorkshire-based company behind the bebionic 3 prothetic hand, is an ‘opportunity to use the skills that we have learnt within motorsport for something that benefits humankind’.

“It makes me feel good,” added the 52 year old West Chiltington resident.

Delta Tooling (Horsham) Ltd was born out of Airfix kit and Hornby railway set retailer The Model Corner, North Street, Horsham.

In the back room of the shop, which was owned by Dennis Childs, Gary’s father, was a small engineering workshop where Mr Childs engineered pieces for various local companies.

“This was the catalyst for Delta Tooling,” said Gary, who founded the company orginally in Denne Parade, Horsham, in 1989 with Luke as business partner.

In the mid-1990s their engineering services were used by Ferrari and they have been involved in manufacturing parts on a sub-contract basis for the highest echelons of motorsport ever since, engineering safety critical parts for cars that reach speeds in excess of 200mph.

It is these high-tech engineering capabilities that Delta has now transferred into the manufacture of five components for the bebionic 3 - an incredible prosthetic limb that offers ‘unrivalled versatility, functionality and performance’. (See video at www.bebionic.com)

The bebionic 3 utilises leading-edge technology to trigger one of 14 programmed grips, ‘perfectly mirroring human movements’.

“Amazingly good,” was Luke’s first reaction to witnessig the hand’s operation. “You can pick up different things, operate a mouse, hold a credit card, hold an egg, and also crush an egg,” added Gary.

“It is very difficult when you have your own limbs to realise what control is needed to do that.”

Nigel Ackland, a former metal smelter who is trialling the bebionic 3, lost his right arm in an idustrial accident five years ago.

He said: “Having a bebionic hand is like being human again, psychologically I wouldn’t be without it. I can hold the phone, shake hands and wash my left hand normally, which I haven’t been able to for five years!

“I’m back to being a two finger typist and can even do a very interesting hand signal which I call the 15th function, not particularly functional perhaps, but the psychological benefit is immense!”

Much of this functionality has only been possible due to Delta’s work engineering the metal work for the prothetic hand, developing RSLSteeper’s original design to a functional machine workable product.

Delta has made a £250,000 investment purchasing a new five-axis machine tool, which is enabling them to supply an initial production run of 50 hands per month, with the aspiration this will increase since the product was launched worldwide late last year.

Delta Tooling is capitalising on this international exposure, but it is not the first time the company has made the headlines.

In 2002, Delta Tooling was involved with the Commonwealth Games, responsible for the manufature of the metal work for the baton which toured the country.

“It was an interesting project because once the baton was fitted with electronics it was supposed to symbolise the the heart beat of the nation,” said Gary. “So when it flashed it was actually to the pulse rate of the person who was carrying it.”

A decade on, the company’s latest product now reacts to the muscle spasms of the amputee host.

With an annual turnover of £750,000 and currently employing nine skilled staff, including one apprentice, the firm is aiming to hire two new machine operators and setters in the coming months, one as soon as possible.