By Simon | 3Ders
When considering that there are over 2 million amputees in the United States alone with a reported 185,000 amputations every year, it becomes clear just how critical advancements in affordable prosthetic fabrication are... particularly in the realm of 3D printing. But aside from a lower cost of fabrication, there are many amputees who consider aesthetics to be just as important.
Industrial designer William Root believes that the combination of cost and undesirable aesthetics are the result of flawed and outdated processes for creating prosthetic limbs. Using 3D printing as a springboard for keeping production costs low, his Exo-Prosthetic leg design not only offers a low-cost solution for amputees but also an aesthetically-pleasing design.
"By bypassing the traditional laborious methods of producing a prosthesis with modern automated technologies," says Root, "the Exo is able to be much more affordable and attractive than typical prostheses."
However just like real limbs, every person is different and requires their own customized solution. By using a combination of 3D scanning, 3D modeling and ultimately, 3D printing, Root has established a process that he believes will change the process of creating a prosthetic limb.
The Exo process starts by analyzing the patient's situation. If the patient's residual limb and remaining intact limb are present, they are scanned to create a 3D model that can be used as a highly-accurate template for creating the prosthetic design around. During the session, FitSocket Technology, which captures tissue properties to create a better fit between the residual limb and socket, is also used to help ensure that the final prosthetic design fits as seamless to the user as possible.
Once the final input data has been established, the resulting 3D mesh can be manipulated in any number of 3D modeling programs and optimized via analysis tools for various weight loads and other considerations…such as physical activity levels….before establishing a final exoskeleton design. The finished model can be customized and colored in this stage similar to arm casts or braces before being 3D printed.
Once the final design direction is established, the model is sent as a single exoskeleton part to a 3D printer and printed out of titanium using the selective laser sintering (SLS) technique. Depending on the needs of the user, the final prosthetic is assembled with connectors and fitted to ensure that it is comfortable for wearing in daily use.
Naturally, a low-cost and aesthetically-pleasing solution that can be life-changing for millions of users is sure to garner some widespread interest.
Although the design features a future-forward, "bionic" aesthetic and is sure to please the eyes of many who can afford prosthetics, the low-cost solution can also bring hope to developing countries where amputees are unable to afford customized prosthetics or even prosthetics alone. Additionally, as 3D printers continue to become cheaper to produce, the option to have prosthetics made locally in these countries is becoming more of a possibility now more than ever.
Since revealing the Exo project, Root has received a lot of attention and is now considering how to apply his approach to existing prosthetic design systems, partnering up with a 3D printing manufacturer or service, or launching a startup centered around customized 3D printed prosthetics.
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