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Titanium prosthetic limbs can now be 3D printed – you go, science!

(TECH NEWS) 3D printing is often seen as a novelty, but it’s literally transforming the medical world, even altering the future of prosthetics.

3d printed leg

Science is rockin’ it!

Don’t underestimate the potential of 3D printing. While plenty of useless trinkets are being manufactured by 3D printers, the emerging technology is also being applied to challenging problems desperately in need of fresh ideas.


One problem is the outdated manufacturing of prosthetics. Over 2 million amputees live in the U.S., and 185,000 new amputations happen each year. This is a significant portion of the population, yet many are unable to afford prosthetics.

Manufacturing prosthetics is extremely expensive

Specialized technicians are required to manually create handmade pieces that are assembled, fitted, adjusted, then fitted again. Children with missing limbs must be refitted for new prosthetics as they grow, creating a massive financial burden for the family.

Designer William Root aimed to make prosthetics affordable, easier to produce, and more aesthetically pleasing. So he created Exo Prosthetics, which produce titanium, 3D printed limbs. First, a 3D scanner collects information from the residual limb of the wearer, ensuring the finished prosthetic will be customized to fit the body.

exo

Next, modeling software is used to design the limb

The wearer can customize the limb to match their particular fashion sense. Amputees can benefit physically and psychologically from wearing a prosthetic limb, but robotic appearances of current models can negatively affect wearers self-esteem. The added bonus of customization is especially helpful for amputees to overcome the psychological stress of wearing a false body part.

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In the past, amputees were stuck with odd, mechanical looking prosthetics. With 3D printing, people can design their prosthetics to look how they want them to. Then, the prosthetic is printed with titanium, a light but durable metal that generally doesn’t cause allergic reactions to the body.

3D printing dramatically reduces manufacturing time and cuts the cost in half. 3D printing also allows unprecedented customization. This is just the tip of the iceberg -the only limit is our imagination.

exo

#3dlimbs

Ellen Vessels, a Staff Writer at The American Genius, is respected for their wide range of work, with a focus on generational marketing and business trends. Ellen is also a performance artist when not writing, and has a passion for sustainability, social justice, and the arts.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Joshua

    December 2, 2016 at 10:05 am

    So much misinformation.

    First, the fitting process cannot be fully automated. You still require someone who understands the fitting process to scan, adjust, fit, and continue to adjust the fit as the patient’s limb and needs changes. Someone has to pay for the advanced software and know how to use it. Someone has to pay for the office space this will be fit in. Someone has to pay for the expensive titanium 3d printer that will still only make SOME of the prosthetic device.

    Second, the cost is NOT reduced to the cost of materials, and never will be. Someone still has to assemble it, fit it and adjust it. In the picture in this article there is a microprocessor controlled ankle – these are incredible expensive for this part alone, not including the cost/time of someone knows how to set it up and educate the patient as to how it works. This price goes up significantly for an above the knee amputee that would need a knee joint – these range anywhere from 5k-50k or more for the newest technology. The tech and programming in these microprocessor parts greatly assists in keeping patients safe and reducing the risk of falls. These need to be set up by someone who has been trained in their use.

    Third, the “Exo” mentioned in this article is actually only replacing a part of an actual prothesis. The parts it replaces are actually some of the less expensive parts, and the cover aspect of it is often not covered by insurances. It looks awesome, and has a place, but it is simply not a full replacement for a prosthesis, and could actually lead to a MORE expensive prothesis.

    Fourth, the “someone” I keep mentioning in this article is a trained Prosthetist who has completed a formal education in his/her field and actually knows how to manage the care of a prosthetic patient and ensure that the patient’s ongoing needs are met. This is one of the two major costs of prosthetics that simply can’t be replaced by 3d printing or software. Period.

    3d printing is a sexy topic that everyone wants a part of. Designers like this jumping out and trying to reinvent the wheel and making false promises is misleading and leads to poor patient care. Yes it’s cool, yes its new and tech-y, and yes it will have a place in many new fields moving forwards. However the truth right now is that 3d printers are not going to make everything instantly easier and better. Casually promising vast improvements in healthcare without any proven track record is dangerous.

  2. Pingback: The Future: New 3-D Printed Titanium Prosthetics | My Word[P]ress

  3. Pingback: The Future: New 3-D Printed Titanium Prosthetics – LifeLeep.com

  4. Pingback: 3D printed titanium prosthetics. How awesome is that? – Awesomer.co

  5. Pingback: When you can 3D scan anything from your phone, what wouldn't you 3D print? - The American Genius

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