leg-3d-life-prints-prosthetics.jpeg

When prosthetic limbs were first created, they had seemed like something straight out of science fiction, but they have been a boon to countless unique individuals. Well, technology never stands still and designers, inventors and creative artists have not rested on their laurels either. No, sir, they keep pushing the frontiers of technology.

 

3D Printing machines

The result is, physically unique members of society can easily obtain much less expensive and quicker prosthetics by way of 3D printing. You read that right: 3D printed prosthetics! I bet that made you sit up straight and take notice. It certainly boggles the mind. But how exactly does 3D printing and prosthetics work?

 

How it Works

 

Okay, you know what three dimensional means; you know what printing is, but what exactly is 3D printing, you ask? That is a very good question.

3D printing is the process of creating solid, three-dimensional objects from digital files. The process is additive, which means that layers upon layers of material are laid down in succession until the desired object is created. That is to say, the final object is built layer by layer, and each layer forms a thin, horizontal cross-section. You can check out this clip to see an example:

With 3D printing, a thin plastic filament is melted. The melted filament is then squeezed through a nozzle. A computer-generated rendering is created, one layer at a time. The bottom layer is created first, and then successive layers are added in turn.

 

Now you are thinking: So far, so good, but how does it work? Well, it is fairly simple actually. Let us say that you were going to create a 3D object: You would first of all create a virtual design of that particular object. To do this, you would build the virtual design via a 3D modeling program in a Computer Aided Design, or CAD file. The final model is then sliced by the software into many hundreds of horizontal layers. The file is then uploaded into the 3D printer, and the printer proceeds to create your object layer after layer after layer until — voila — a completed three dimensional object emerges! The layers are so seamlessly fused, they are undetectable by the human eye.

 

What Makes it Special

 

All right, you are now 3D printing savvy, but now you are wondering: Why 3D printed prosthetics?

There are many reasons why 3D printed prosthetics make sense, and why this particular technology promises to be the way forward for physically unique people. The prosthetic-making process is a difficult one. In addition, it is an expensive process. The main benefits of 3D printed prosthetics include:

 

 

  • Cost – A commercially-made prosthetic typically costs between $5,000 and $50,000. This means that untold numbers of unique people around the world are unable to afford the prosthetics that would greatly improve their quality of life. Contrast those costs with the cost of 3D printed prosthetics that costs only a few hundred dollars,and perhaps less than that.Indeed, an e-NABLE team of volunteers crafted a prosthetic hand that only cost around $50. Yes, just $50! You read that right. I had to pick my jaw up from off the floor when I saw the final cost. It just seems so incredible.

    The volunteers used 3D printed sections of the hand along with readily available connectors and screws. They are not stopping there, however. The team of caring individuals plans to develop an open source of hand design files for printing. That would be fantastic. So many lives could be changed for the better from such an initiative. Unique people around the globe can raise three cheers for technological wizardry — and three cheers for the selfless e-NABLE team of volunteers. Truly, they serve humanity.

 

  • Speed – A 3D printed prosthetic limb can usually be made in a day. In comparison, it generally takes weeks or even months to produce and calibrate regular prosthetic limbs.

 

  • Versatility – Prosthetics made from 3D printing can be easily customized, and created to suit the owner. Artistic, rugged, and specialty designs have been made to suit specific activity use, including outdoor activities such as biking. This level of customability would cost a fortune with current prosthetics.

 

  • Growth – Given the fact that children grow like weeds — with no disrespect to the weed or to the child — a physically unique child will very quickly outgrow a prosthetic limb. Replacing the limb to keep pace with the child’s rate of growth until he or she reaches maturity can be a pretty expensive process, especially when you consider that the majority of insurance companies balk at paying for prosthetics for children because they outgrow the limbs so quickly. It really is not easy for families to pay out $10,000 or so every year, or every other year.No such problems exist with 3D printed prosthetics!

    The ease of production and the much lower cost of 3D prosthetics make it a much more attractive option. In addition, stretchable and expandable 3D prosthetics may soon be available for children. Such a device could “grow” with the child. A grant-winning student has created a child’s 3D prosthetic that stretches and expands. That link is on our resources page.

 

It is tempting to think that 3D printed prosthetics cannot be as good as conventional prosthetics but, surprise, surprise, 3D printed prosthetics compare favorably with, and seem to trump, conventional prosthetics on a number of fronts. Examples include:

 

  • Comfort – Many physically unique wearers of conventional prosthetic limbs experience prosthetic socket discomfort.Research undertaken by a doctoral student at MIT involves the design and production of a more comfortable 3D printed prosthetic socket. This would make 3D printed prosthetic sockets far superior, comfort-wise, to regular prosthetic sockets. Source:http://cargocollective.com/sengeh/Improving-prosthetic-comfort-for-amputees

 

Furthermore, there is nothing like word of mouth from a real-life user in the recommendation of a product. In April 2014, 3D universe, a website that is focuses on 3D printing, published a rather enlightening article in which a physically unique wearer of a prosthetic limb compared his regular prosthetic hand, that cost $42,000, to a 3D printed Cyborg Beast hand that cost only $50 to produce. If you have been feeling somewhat skeptical so far, his comparison of the 3D printed prosthetic hand to the real deal should convince you of the merits of 3D printed prosthetics. You be the judge. Here is his story in a nutshell:

 

Born with his left hand missing, 53-year-old Jose Delgado Jr. has a lifetime’s experience of many different prosthetic devices. For the past year, he has had the use of a myoelectric prosthetic device that cost $42,000. Jose was fortunate in that his insurance company picked up the cost of this hugely expensive device. Many physically unique individuals are not so lucky.

 

This myoelectric prosthetic device works by taking the signals produced by the muscle fibers within his forearm, and translating those same signals to move the fingers of the prosthetic hand mechanically. The prosthetic hand is actually a very good replica of a real hand.

 

Anyway, Jose agreed to test the 3D printed Cyborg Beast prosthetic hand that was printed out by Jeremy Simon of 3DUniverse.org. Source: http://3dprint.com/2438/50-prosthetic-3d-printed-hand

Trying it on

When Simon met up with Jose, Simon was unsure how the 3D printed prosthetic hand, costing just $50, would compare with Jose’s Cyborg Beast hand that cost $42,000. After all, Jose’s job involved a good amount of lifting and other manual activities, so any prosthetic hand had to be up to such demanding tasks on a daily basis. Really, what chance did a 3D printed hand that was created from ABS plastic have against such an expensive prosthetic hand? Nevertheless, Simon fitted Jose with the 3D hand.

When Simon met up with Jose, Simon was unsure how the 3D printed prosthetic hand, costing just $50, would compare with Jose’s Cyborg Beast hand that cost $42,000. After all, Jose’s job involved a good amount of lifting and other manual activities, so any prosthetic hand had to be up to such demanding tasks on a daily basis. Really, what chance did a 3D printed hand that was created from ABS plastic have against such an expensive prosthetic hand? Nevertheless, Simon fitted Jose with the 3D hand.

 

Time passed — as it has a habit of doing — and Simon once again met up with Jose. Imagine how astounded and delighted Simon was when Jose told him that the 3D printed prosthetic hand had out-performed the prohibitively costly $42,000 myoelectric hand that he had been using for more than twelve months. Jose went on to tell Simon that he much preferred the 3D printed hand. Who would have thought it?

 

Well, the upshot is: Simon is now in the process of printing a newer, stronger hand for Jose. Simon is using Bridge nylon, which is stronger than ABS plastic. As such, Jose will receive a new 3D printed prosthetic hand that is even more robust than the one he tested.

 

Now, perhaps you are mostly convinced, but you are wondering what happens when breakage occurs. Yes, things break but, in the case of 3D printed prosthetics, a replacement can be printed easily and quickly. If only it were that simple to fix the broken shingles on the roof, or the massive dent in the car door.