3D printing has made prosthetic design and production incredibly more affordable for those that are missing limbs. In the United States, prosthetics can cost a family anywhere from $5000 -$50,000, resulting in a significant financial burden. Moreover, prosthetics need to be custom fit to the individual, requiring a production time on the order of weeks or months.
The affordability of 3D printers and the ability for anyone to design and print custom design parts has made prosthetics radically more affordable and accessible to people all over the world.
Hands and arms are some of the most common 3D printed prosthetics. In 2011, Ivan Owen designed a bionic hand and made the files open for others to print and distribute. His efforts led to the creation of the e-NABLE Community, a global network of volunteers using 3D printing to help those in need by printing and designing prosthetic hands. These hands tend to cost only $50 compared to the thousands these individuals would have to pay.
More technically challenging, Limbitless Solutions has begun clinical trials for their 3D printed prosthetic arms. These myoelectric arms use muscle-flexing in the remaining portion of the arm, detected by leads attached to the skin, to guide movement in the prosthetic. These arms cost around $1000, a tenth of the typical $10,000 price point.
William Root’s Exo-Prosthetic leg perfectly demonstrates how 3D printed prosthetics can be both functional and aesthetically pleasing. Using 3D scanning, printing and modeling, Root is attempting to automate the entire production process.
The prosthetic limb is constructed to identically match a reversed laser scan of the remaining limb. Root also used FitSocket technology to capture the leg tissue properties for a more comfortable fit of the prosthetic. By shaping the prosthetic as a hollow exoskeleton with a customizable pattern, Root offers a lightweight alternative to other prosthetics while also giving the prosthetic an appealing aesthetic.
Patients who have had facial reconstruction or have been damaged by cancerous tumors often require facial prostheses. For example, eye cancers can lead to devastating effects on the face and often lead to severe damage after removal of tumours.
According to the American Academy of Opthalmology, facial prosthetics can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000. Each one created by an ocularist, an artisan that makes and casts the mold and adds the skin color and eyelashes to match the patient.
In 2014, University of Miami researchers used a mobile app to scan a patient’s face for the purpose of creating a prosthetic mask. It works by generating a virtual mesh from two scans of the damaged and undamaged skin. The resulting mask is printed in rubber and suffused with pigments to match the patients skin tone.
The use of 3D printed prosthetic limbs has been incredibly useful for helping improve the lives of animals, as well. Many cases exist of prosthetic legs, paws, or other body parts being 3D printed to help disabled animals regain mobility and improve there welfare. For examples, check out some of the following articles:
License: The text of "The Most Common 3D Printed Prosthetics" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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