3-D printed prosthetics

Prosthetics is the field where 3-D printing has probably had the greatest impact, with important breakthroughs in recovery and mobility.

Above: The Cortex cast prototype by designer Jake Evill heals fractured bones. The form of the cast varies with each case: 3-D scans are taken of the injury and used to determine the geometry and the distribution of the cast’s voronoi cells. The cells are denser in areas where the fracture is worse, requiring more support.

Robohand

The most promising aspect of these projects is their collaborative approach: Designer and user work together to develop a personalized prosthetic, built specifically for the user.

Above, a young boy is fitted with his new and fully articulate robotic hand. Developed by a Washington-based engineer in collaboration with a South African woodworker who had lost four fingers in an accident, the Robohand was prototyped using a Makerbot and some metal joints. The designers have tested it on two kids so far and see further applications, given how easy it is to calibrate the design to each user.

Bespoke Innovations Sport Fairing

This new breed of prosthetics is geared specifically to a user’s handicaps and tastes, which are reflected in the design’s final form.

Above: a fairing that’s lightweight, flexible, and durable--perfect for sports. Developed by Bespoke Innovations, the fairings are designed to wrap around an existing prosthetic limb, adding contour (plus patterns and graphics the individual can choose) that typical prosthetics lack.

Duck Receives Prosthetic Foot

The applications extend to animals too, though the feedback is…more muted.

Above: Buttercup, a formerly lame duck, waddles for the first time. The young waterfowl was born with a backward foot, making it extremely difficult to walk. A 3-D printed mold was made of the proper form for the species, then cast in silicone and slipped onto Buttercup’s leg.

Project Shellter

Large numbers of homeless hermit crabs led Makerbot and TeamTeamUSA to design and print eco-friendly shells for the crustaceans. Working with a biological researcher, the team developed a shell comparable to those found in the wild, matching the natural found version in roominess and durability.

3-D printed bionic ear

Researchers from Princeton succeeded this spring in printing a functional ear prototype using 3-D printed cells. Printing allowed the team to integrate an antenna capable of picking up radio waves, while a left-and-right pair can hear in stereo. Aesthetically, achieving the shape of an ear would have been very difficult without printing.

Eagle Gets New Beak

Beauty the bald eagle had her upper beak shot off by a poacher, making it very difficult for her to grasp food. Several years after the incident, she was given a new beak, this one printed with synthetic materials and buttressed with metal. It saved Beauty’s life.

Photo: Young Kwak

3-D printed jaw

Last summer, an 83-year-old woman in the Netherlands who had contracted a chronic bone infection was fitted with a 3-D printed jawbone. The new jaw, which was coated with a bioceramic layer for durability, was printed with articulated joints and cavities for dentures. It was also designed to encourage muscle attachment. The woman was able to speak shortly after surgery and able to swallow the next day.

Photo: Yorick Jansens

Paul's Kettle

A designathon in London set up designers with Paul Carter, a television producer born without lower arms or legs. Carter was an avid coffee drinker and had asked for a way to facilitate brewing his morning cup. The designers came up with a custom kettle fitted with loops on the top and bottom. Carter could then pick up and tip the kettle with his upper arms. Of course this isn’t prosthetic design per se, but it’s indicative of the reach of 3-D printed objects to help the disabled.

Photo: Enabled by Design

9 Ways 3-D Printing Makes The World Better

At last, the oh-cool at-home manufacturing toy turns into an important tool--offering people (and animals) aid on-demand.

You’ve heard it before: 2011 2012 2013 is the year of 3-D printing. The future is here! The individual will wrench manufacturing power from the global industrial complex! Basement hobbyists, programmers, and nerds unite! Anyone with the machine and the know-how can be their own engineer, designer, maker.

Sounds great, right? Still, a lot of what’s been done with 3-D printing doesn’t exactly fill me with hope about its supposed revolutionary potential. For every 3-D printed action figure and Colbert head the technology has brought into the world, you get another print-ready bong or stupidly complex corset thing. Or worse, a 3-D printed 3-D printer. (See this post for a great takedown of the hype.)

On the other hand, scientists, surgeons, and other professionals and specialists have made significant headway in applying 3-D printing as a truly useful--not just diversionary--technology. Printed organs and houses, for example, offer up immense possibilities in their respective industries. Bespoke biological parts can be materialized patient by patient for groundbreaking applications. Printable houses could signal serious architectural advances, beyond silly, self-indulgent shapes into realizing high-yield, low-cost housing.

So what happens when you mix the consumer-driven approach of the former with the social, humanist imperative of the latter? Ideally, you get something like 3-D printed altruism, the ability to design and make objects that improve the lives of others in a very immediate way.

Prosthetics is the first field where advances like this come to mind, and most of the following nine print-for-good projects explore the subject in new ways. We ran a piece in April that dug into 3-D printing’s “next frontier,” that is, its exciting applications for the disabled. User collaboration results in a prosthetic that’s easy to print/build and made with cheap(er) materials, so it’s more accessible to more people. But it still feels personal.

Take the Robohand, the Luke Skywalker-like appendage designed by a Washington-based mechanical engineer and prop designer in collaboration with a South African woodworker who lost four fingers of his right hand in an accident. The trans-Pacific pair worked together to produce a plastic “robotic” hand using primarily a Makerbot. They then iterated the design for a young boy with amniotic band syndrome, which left one of his hands with nonfunctional digits. The Robohand gave its young user almost full use of his hand, letting him grip a bike handle and throw a tennis ball. Best of all, the designers say it’s only a matter of printing a new shell to accommodate the boy’s growth.

A temporary prosthetic of a kind, the Cortex is a 3-D printed polyamide cast that’s designed to heal fractured bones. Developed by recent graduate Jack Evill, the geometry of the cast is determined by X-rays and scans of the user’s wounded arm. The shell’s voronoi cells are clustered to support the bone where the damage is most severe. The cast’s lightweight structure is porous to encourage ventilation, another serious improvement on old-school encasing: no funky odors.

The medical assists make way for ducklings, too: A lame duck named Buttercup received a 3-D printed prosthetic that potentially saved its life. The young waterfowl was born with a backward left foot, making it quite the struggle to walk and swim. Software engineer Mike Garey of the Feathered Angels Waterfowl Sanctuary in Arlington, Tennessee, adopted Buttercup and researched ways to get his new feathered friend waddling for the first time. He contacted Novacopy, a 3-D modeling company, which developed and printed a mold for a functional duck foot. It was set in silicone, and the appendage was a perfect fit.

See more of these 3-D printed prosthetics in the above slide show.

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