Bespoke 3D Prosthetic
Nowadays, anyone can pick up a plastic 3D printer for a couple of hundred pounds and start printing their own limbs. To a certain extent.
Amazing technological advances are allowing scientists to take a 3D scan of an amputee’s arm, 3D print a custom fitted socket for the defective limb overnight, and create a bio-electrically controlled limb with sensors on its muscles which can pick up signals from the brain, so that the hand moves in response to those signals.
Scientists are able to mirror the side that exists and undergo “virtual planning” on the computer, whereby they take data from the functional side and reflect it onto the other side. This process will make prosthetic surgery much more efficient time-wise, with less risk involved and improved outcome.
There are also new materials on the prosthetics scene which complement the 3D printing technology and allow for better integration into the body, such as a honeycomb structure which allows bone to grow and merge with 3D printed scaffolding. In the future, developers hope to print and grow complete organs for our bodies, and print using human stem cells, which are the building blocks for any other cell in our body. Currently, they are able to print basic living structures such as liver cells, and this is significant in regards to drug testing, meaning they can test on 3D printed cells rather than on animals or humans.
GO-6 Layer 3D Printing Wheelchair
There are a number of strategic industrial design agencies forging the way in intelligent technological research, improving the quality of life for people with disabilities and amputations. One of these agencies is LayerLAB and their inaugural project “GO”, a made to measure 3D printed consumer wheelchair that has been designed to fit the individual needs of a wide range of disabilities and lifestyles. The custom form of the seat and foot-bay is driven by 3D digital data derived from mapping each user’s biometric information. The resulting wheelchair accurately fits the individual’s body shape, weight and disability to reduce injury and increase comfort, flexibility, and support. The accompanying GO app allows users to participate in the design process by specifying their preferences of colour, elements and patterns.
This is a wonderful example of how we can use 3D printing to offer customisation to the individual customer, and a personalisation of products which allows the wheelchair users to have a greater sense of control around their situation, feeling that the wheelchair is made for them, rather than them having to mould to fit the wheelchair.
Go Gloves Materialise 2016
From this project and the research and interviewing process around it, LayerLAB discovered that a great mental and physical stress for wheelchair users was the strain and effort involved in self-propelling. They developed the GO glove alongside the GO wheelchair, where the glove grips more efficiently to the wheelchair push rims. The user can lock into the push rims and get a greater power-to-push ratio, taking some of the strain of their arm, neck and shoulder muscles, and reducing the exhaustion and injury induced by self-propelling, which so many wheelchair users suffer from.
Philip the duck with his 3D printed feet
The story of Phillip the duck is another example of the far-reaching potential of 3D printing technology. Phillip lost his feet from frostbite, and was rescued by a teacher in Wisconsin, who was considering having him put down, due to his immobility. A local teacher had recently purchased a 3D printer and, with the help of his students, was able to design Phillip some new prosthetic legs from flexible plastic. The simple design allows the remnants of Phillip’s legs to slot in the top of the prosthetic legs, with flat artificial webbed feet underneath providing stability.
Now Phillip the duck is able to walk again, not quite as nimble as before, but a pretty incredible feat..