3D printing is changing the world in more ways than one.
3D printing is a revolutionary technology that gives hope to people who have been waiting years for a prosthetic arm or leg. The technology has been improving steadily over the years and providing people with artificial limbs that are not only functional but also attractive.
3D printers can make anything from a bone implant to a replica of your favorite character in the movies. They can use materials like nylon, wood, metal, plastic, clay and even chocolate!
3D printing has been able to provide a cheaper and more efficient solution to prosthetic limbs than ever before, using designs that fit each specific patient’s needs and requirements precisely. The best part is that the technology is advancing exponentially, which means that new and better models can be created quickly.
Here is a list of the nine most common 3d printed prosthetic limbs, as described by people who require such things:
3D Printed Prosthetics
#1. The Open Socket Prosthesis
This type of prosthesis is for post-operative amputees. It consists of a custom fit socket that is open at the bottom for external fitment. The use of an open socket prosthesis allows the amputee to participate in activities that require water submersion, for example, swimming.
#2. Below Knee Prosthesis
This artificial leg replaces a patient’s ankle joint with a prosthetic one but still has two individual ‘toes’ at the end. It is specially designed to attach a fake foot and shin, which replaces the missing part of the actual leg.
#3. The Knee Disarticulation Prosthesis
A knee disarticulation prosthesis is an artificial limb that replaces a patient’s thigh joint with a prosthetic one. The knee disarticulation prosthesis replaces a leg at the hip joint and may even allow the patient to kneel.
#4. Prehension Hand
Prehension hands are y-shaped and have two palmar grasp options: key pinch (thumb opposition against the index finger) and power grasp (opposition between the thumb and all fingers). While both options can achieve similar results, they do so in different ways.
#5. Myoelectric Prostheses
This is a type of prosthesis which uses electrodes to control it. These unique hands and arms filter out the noise created by the movement of the prosthesis and only react to the impulses that come from the patient’s muscles.
#6. The Cable Operated Prostheses
A cable-operated prosthesis is an artificial limb that uses cables and harnesses to provide mobility for patients who have lost lower limbs. A hook or a cosmetic hand can be fitted at the end of the prosthesis.
#7. The Cable Operated Arm
A cable-operated arm is an artificial arm that uses a system of cables and harnesses to provide mobility for patients who have lost limbs. Such arms can help them with most basic tasks, such as eating or writing.
#8. The Flexy-Hand
This type of prosthesis is for upper limb amputees. It consists of a group of three fingers that are joined together with an elastic material. This design allows the patient to hold objects firmly but also quickly release them when required.
#9. The Myoelectric Arm
This is a type of artificial arm that uses electrodes to control it. These unique arms filter out the noise created by the movement of the prosthesis and only react to the impulses that come from the patient’s muscles.
Some of the other common 3D printed prosthetic limbs include:
The Cosmetic Prostheses
A cosmetic prosthesis can be fitted whenever an artificial limb is not required. It hides the fact that the patient is wearing a prosthetic limb and can conceal physical deformities.
The Above Knee Prosthesis
This type of prosthesis is for post-operative amputees who have lost part of their leg above the knee joint. It consists of a custom fit socket open at the bottom for external fitment and has two ‘toes’ attached to it. These toes are usually cosmetically colored to blend in with the rest of the leg.
The Cosmetic Hand
This type of prosthesis is for upper limb amputees who have lost their hands. It hides the fact that the patient is wearing a prosthetic limb and can conceal physical deformities. It provides limited movement of the fingers and uses an elastic material to allow grip and release as the user requires.
The Above Elbow Prosthesis
This type of prosthesis is for post-operative amputees who have lost their arm above the elbow. It consists of a custom fit socket open at the bottom for external fitment and has two ‘fingers’ attached to it. These fingers are usually cosmetically colored to blend in with the rest of the limb.
The Below Elbow Prosthesis
This type of prosthesis is for post-operative amputees who have lost their arm below the elbow. It consists of a custom fit socket open at the bottom for external fitment and attached two hooks. These fingers are usually cosmetically colored to blend in with the rest of the limb.
The Robotic Prostheses
A robotic prosthesis is an artificial limb with joints actuated by the electrical impulses generated by the patient’s muscles. When these signals reach the robot, it triggers specific movements in its parts, allowing for greater flexibility than other types of prosthetic limbs.
The Robotic Arm
A robotic arm is an artificial arm that is actuated by the electrical impulses generated by the patient’s muscles. When these signals reach the robot, it triggers specific movements in its parts, allowing for greater flexibility than other types of prosthetic limbs.
The Cosmetic Foot
A cosmetic foot is a prosthesis worn by people who have lost one or more of their feet. It hides the fact that the patient has an artificial limb and can conceal physical deformities. It provides limited toes movement and uses an elastic material to allow grip and release as the user requires.
The evolution of 3D printing has transformed manufacturing creating new prospects for new products. 3D printing provides hope of helping millions of people worldwide who need prosthetics by giving them 3D printed prosthetics. 3D printed prosthetics present the new revolution in medicine that can give individualized fitting solutions to every person who needs a prosthetics. 3D printed prosthetics are developed digitally and printed using 3D printers. The 3D technology has made it easy to design and print prosthetics that fit the users’ unique needs, such as prosthetics that perfectly fit the remaining part of a limb.
How Does A 3D Printed Prosthetic Function?
3D printed prosthetics, and wearables, like these bladders, provide a solution to challenges posed by traditional prosthetics. Traditional prosthetics are made from silicon sleeves worn on the limb and held in place by straps. Their creation process involves wrapping the stump in plaster to develop a reverse mold. Once dry, the mold is filled with more plaster and left to harden.
Next, a socket and additional modifications are made to precisely fit the stump or bone. Although this process produces custom-made prosthetics, it is not a simple as it sounds. It can take over a week due to the physical therapy involved in the fitting. The process is necessary to protect nerves and tender endings.
The cost of traditional prosthetics is exorbitant and becomes inhibitive if the recipient is still growing. 3D printed prosthetics can reduce the process of developing prosthetics for the individuals who need them. First, a 3D scanner scans the beneficiary’s stump in under 15 minutes. The scan is analyzed within seconds and sent to a 3D printer for printing.
Since 3D printed prosthetics can come in many colors, patients can have 3D printed prosthetics that match their skin tone. The STL files used to develop the prosthetics can be kept and reused. If the beneficiary is a child, the files can be revisited and scaled up to produce a new 3D printed prosthetic when they outgrow their currents 3D printed prosthetic.
3D Printed Prosthetic Materials
The 3D printed prosthetics are made with plastics, just like the traditional prosthetics. In most instances, traditional prosthetics are made of polyethylene, polypropylene, polyurethane, and acrylics. The prosthetics’ internal structure, the pylon, comprises lightweight materials like carbon fiber, aluminum, or titanium. The 3D printed prosthetics also use a variety of materials.
These include acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), bridge nylon, duraform polyamide C15, resins, nylon 12, PLA, fiberglass, thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), expanded polyurethane, polyamide, reinforced polyamide, aluminum, Carbon fiber reinforced (CFR) filaments, etc. The best 3D printers are also increasingly becoming compatible with titanium and other light materials.
The incorporation of lightweight materials increases the strength and durability of 3D printed prosthetics. For instance, recent research in Belgium has successfully facilitated the implantation of a 3D printed prosthetic titanium mandible. Similarly, following FDA approval, Oxford Performance Materials (OPM) successfully implanted a 3D printed polyetherketoneketone (PEKK) skull implant.
Titanium dental implants, spinal, maxillofacial, and orthopedic implants have also become common. New 3D printers can now use chondrocytes, silicon, and silver nanoparticles to 3D print ear implants. 3D printers have also demonstrated an ability to print with living cells, and this provides a unique probability of printing new limbs and organs.
3D Printed Prosthetic Cost and Durability
Traditional prosthetics are costly. Patients have to spend thousands of dollars to buy them and a little more to have them customized by a skilled prosthetic maker. On the other hand, 3D printed prosthetics are cheaper and easier to make. Both armatures and skilled profession with 3D printers can access good prosthetic designs that are customized and print them easily. The designs are freely available online, and anyone with a 3D printer can access and print them.
On the downside, most materials used in 3D printing are not durable. However, since the cost of printing is low, patients can keep printing new 3D printed prosthetics without feeling the pinch. A new traditional prosthetics cost $1,500 to $8,000, while the 3D printed prosthetics is around $50. Therefore, it is so easy and cheap to make 3D printed prosthetics that you can print prosthetics for your pet.
3d Printed Prosthetics for Animals
3D printed in now saving animals loves through 3D printed prosthetics for animals. Both domesticated animals and wild animals can now benefit from 3D printed prosthetics. The precision and accuracy with which 3D printers produce prosthetics make it easy to help animals by providing them fitting 3D Printed prosthetics. All kinds of animals can benefit from prosthetic limbs.
Already, dogs and cats that lost their limbs in accidents or were born with deformities have benefited from 3D printed limbs. Even birds the lose their beaks can be fitted with a new 3D printed functional beaks. Several birds have received 3D printed limbs, crocodiles have benefited from 3D printed tails, while some tortoises that lost their shells have benefited from 3D printed shells. The realm of animal prosthetics is an industry ready for the transformation that 3D printing can provide.
The Future of 3D Printed Prosthetics
Although 3D printed prosthetics hold the future of prosthetics, the traditional prosthetics are not going away. The traditional prosthetics design and materials are a product of years of experimentation and perfection.
Their reliability is undeniable. However, 3D printed prosthetics have proven to be a formidable option because of their reliable services to amputees from economically challenged backgrounds who cannot afford professionally made prosthetics. In addition, 3D printed prosthetics are a reliable investment for children since they can have new ones printed once they outgrow their current ones.
Although there are no 3D printed prosthetics for legs because current materials cannot sustain human body weight, continued refining of materials and processes will soon solve this problem. Many advancements by professional groups, research teams, and armature open-source groups online are underway. The advancements will improve the durability and reliability of 3D printed prosthetics.
The Permanent Prosthesis
A permanent prosthesis cannot be removed, except in urgent circumstances. It provides more excellent stability to patients who have lost one or more of their legs. Depending on the patient’s requirements, it can be custom fit using prefabricated parts or a 3d printer.
A damaged limb can be one of the most devastating things to happen to someone. Not only is the injury itself life-threatening, but also it must be expensive to recover and rehabilitate. Furthermore, if people do not have access to even essential healthcare services in developing countries, they may live with these injuries for their entire lives.
These different types of prosthetic limbs are explicitly designed to suit the varying needs of amputees. However, 3d printing has made it easier for people who have lost a limb to regain a sense of normalcy in their lives. Using a 3d printer and various software, people can customize their artificial limbs according to their specifications, creating a prosthesis that functions properly and looks aesthetically pleasing. Check out our 3D printing guide here if you want to learn more about how it works.