Beau­ti­ful 3D printed pros­thet­ics

We­can­re­build­him.We­have­thetech­nol­ogy.

HWM (Malaysia) - - FEATURE -

LOS­ING A LIMB IS A TRAU­MATIC and life-chang­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and, for many, the cost of a tra­di­tional pros­thetic re­place­ment, rang­ing from about US$3,000 to US$30,000 for an arm and about US$5,000 to US$50,000 for a leg, is just too ex­pen­sive to be a fea­si­ble op­tion. But to­day, ad­vance­ments in 3D print­ing may of­fer an al­ter­na­tive so­lu­tion at a frac­tion of the cost. Many am­putees have al­ready ben­e­fited from open-source schemat­ics for 3D printed pros­thet­ics that are read­ily avail­able on­line. e-Nable, a global net­work of vol­un­teers helps sup­ply am­putees with th­ese 3D printed limbs, which of­ten cost just less than US$50 to make. But while th­ese low-cost 3D printed limbs are af­ford­able, they also have their own draw­backs. Due to the generic na­ture of the schematic, the socket fit­ting is of­ten medi­ocre and un­com­fort­able, and the plas­tic used in the 3D print­ing process isn’t as durable or ca­pa­ble of sup­port­ing as much weight as the high-qual­ity poly­mers and met­als used in tra­di­tional pros­thet­ics. In ad­di­tion, they of­ten look and feel un­aes­thetic, which can ex­ac­er­bate the sense of loss and neg­a­tively af­fect the psy­cho­log­i­cal well­be­ing of some am­putees. One New York-based de­signer is try­ing to change all of that. By us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of 3D scan­ning, 3D print­ing and 3D mod­el­ing soft­ware, Wil­liam Root’s Ex­oPros­thetic leg is not only af­ford­able to make, it’s also fully cus­tom­iz­a­ble, su­per strong, su­per light, and it looks amaz­ing. The process be­gins with a scan of the pa­tient’s resid­ual limb and re­main­ing in­tact limb, if present, to cre­ate a highly pre­cise 3D vir­tual model, al­low­ing the anatomy to match up to within frac­tions of a mil­lime­ter. This process is done with a tech­nol­ogy de­vel­oped by MIT’s Biomecha­tron­ics lab called FitSocket, which uses an ar­ray of pres­sure sen­sors to gauge the soft­ness or stiff­ness of a pa­tient’s re­main­ing tis­sue, al­low­ing for a bet­ter fit and in­creased com­fort be­tween the resid­ual limb and socket. Us­ing the same data, Root then ex­trap­o­lates a 3D model of the pa­tient’s full limb, which is turned into a tri­an­gu­lated mesh. Root has de­signed a hol­lowed out ex­oskele­ton model that he says of­fers “max­i­mum strength for the least amount of ma­te­rial and weight”. A stress anal­y­sis tool helps de­ter­mine weak-points on the model, and soft­ware in­creases the mesh den­sity of the struc­ture to com­pen­sate. The sur­face pat­tern of the ex­oskele­ton can be cus­tom­ized with pat­terns and col­ors to suit the client, or it can later be used as a scaf­fold­ing for a life­like sil­i­cone sleeve. The fin­ished model is sent to an in­dus­trial 3D prin­ter and printed out of sin­tered ti­ta­nium pow­der, an ex­tremely durable, light­weight and bio­com­pat­i­ble me­tal. The process fuses ti­ta­nium dust par­ti­cles to­gether us­ing laser sin­ter­ing. Printed as a sin­gle 3D ex­oskele­ton it is im­me­di­ately ready for as­sem­bly. Us­ing cus­tom con­nec­tors 3D printed di­rectly onto the pros­the­sis, off-the-shelf pros­thetic com­po­nents are in­serted into the Exo leg, and it is se­curely as­sem­bled us­ing a stan­dard pyra­mid con­nec­tor. The re­sult is a pros­thetic limb that looks like it came straight out of a sci-fi movie or video game. Ac­cord­ing to Root, the to­tal cost from scan to fin­ished prod­uct is about US$1,800. Now Root is con­sid­er­ing how best to ap­ply his process to ex­ist­ing sys­tems, and whether it would be most ef­fec­tive be­ing taken up by a startup, a 3D-print­ing com­pany or a big player in the ex­ist­ing pros­the­sis mar­ket­place.

“BY US­ING A COM­BI­NA­TION OF 3D SCAN­NING, 3D PRINT­ING AND 3D MOD­EL­ING SOFT­WARE, WIL­LIAM ROOT’S EXO-PROS­THETIC LEG IS NOT ONLY AF­FORD­ABLE TO MAKE, IT’S ALSO

FULLY CUS­TOM­IZ­A­BLE, SU­PER STRONG, SU­PER LIGHT, AND IT LOOKS AMAZ­ING.”

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