A News Health — 29 October 2014
3D Printing

Photo courtesy of Robohand

3D printing used to be science fiction. Now, it’s another option in the list of available manufacturing processes. Recently, there have been a growing number of stories where 3D printing has made it possible to develop low cost prosthetics in parts of the world where “traditional” prosthetics are almost impossible to get, and just as impossible to afford.

While all prosthetics need to be fitted to the user, the first step is having the option of receiving a device in the first place.

Traditionally prosthetic limbs and orthotics can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to over one hundred thousand dollars. 3D printed devices can have a material cost of well under one hundred dollars.

The drawback of 3D printed prostheses, is that they are not as durable, functional, or aesthetically pleasing as a more traditional, custom device. However, at a fraction of the cost, the availability of prosthetics is a much greater reality.

Just ask of South African Carpenter Richard van As, who lost 4 fingers in a woodworking accident in 2011. After discovering there were no affordable prosthetics that met his needs, van As began researching and building his own replacement fingers. He then contacted Ivan Owan through the internet, to help develop an inexpensive 3D printing process to create prosthetic hands. The two have now founded Robohand and have created many inexpensive prosthetic hands South African children who are missing fingers.

“The introduction of 3D printing into the world of prosthetics is amazing. It can literally help people in places and scenarios, that couldn’t previously be helped.” Says Pete Goller, of Metro Prosthetics in Maryland. “While it is not necessarily the perfect material for every need, the promise of lower cost and accessibility of prosthetic limbs, where prostheses are currently unavailable, is fantastic for the people who need them.”

DSC_5266However, that is only part of the solution. Goller explains, “Once a prosthetic has been created, the final part of the equation is, and always will be, to make sure the prosthetic fits the individual.”

“It’s important to make sure that a person’s prosthesis fits, and works well with their lifestyle. However, it’s also important to make sure that the device fits and works properly for them over time. We call this continuity of care, and it’s very important for a person’s quality of life when using prosthetic or orthotic devices” says Goller.

“As a person’s body and lifestyle change, the fit of the device will change, as well as their needs from the device. The prosthetic you need today, may not be the prosthetic you need in 5 years – certainly the fit will have changed. This is why a relationship between a person and their prosthetist is so important.”

Click here to visit Robohand’s site.

Click here to visit Metro Prosthetics’ site.

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Geoff Sims

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