When it comes to industries adopting 3D printing, one of the earliest and most fervent supporters of the technologies is of course the medical sector. Indeed, AM is becoming a crucial tool in healthcare thanks to a variety of factors. This is especially the case when it comes to prosthetics. With 3D printing, the benefits are two-fold. First, of course, the prostheses can be perfectly fit to the patient thanks to the ability to customize the part. But additionally, 3D printing enables lower-cost, local production of prostheses. As the World Health Organization estimates that 30 million people worldwide are in need of prosthetics, this can help increase availability for many especially in remote regions. We took a look at some of the top examples of 3D printed prosthetics currently available.
The E-nable association
E-nable, also known as Enabling the future , is an association created in the United States by Jen Owen. The idea behind this project is to bring together makers and enthusiasts to create a network of models of prostheses in the world that can obviously be printed in 3D. The main objective is to “give a hand” to the people who need it most, thus avoiding the high cost of a traditional prosthesis. Since its creation in 2013, the association has donated 3D printed prostheses to hundreds of people around the world.
Bionico Hand, an Open-Source 3D Printed Prosthesis
The Bionico Hand project is the brainchild of Frenchman Nicolas Huchet who has used a bionic hand since he was 18 years old. After making his own, he launched Bionicohand as a way to make more for himself and others. Essentially, what he has conceived is a myoprosthesis, his own term for a myoelectric prosthetic, that can repair itself. He aims to create something designed by and for amputees that will be available open source so anyone can make their own. The project is not yet ready, though it has been in development for a number of years now. However, the proof of concept was produced in October 2021 and the goal is to transform it into a functional prototype by the end of 2022.
Make Your Own 3D Printed Robotic Arm with Youbionic
Created by Federico Ciccarese, Youbionic is a platform that is a little different from many on our list. It is not technically designed to create prosthetics for those in need, but rather a way for young people to enter into the robotics industry. Essentially, buyers will receive a kit with everything they need to create their very own robotic arms, including 3D printing part files. These files have been designed to be easy to print as well as oriented to obtain the best results. And best of all? There are not many parts that make up an Avatar Full Arm (one of the largest available projects), leaving users will less assembly than they might expect. On the company’s website, they have a variety of cool projects that you can buy, including full arms, hands, double hands and more.
Unlimited Tomorrow – The Name Says it All
Unlimited Tomorrow was founded in Colorado in 2011 by Easton LaChapelle who had been working on robotic limb development for a few years. However, she decided to launch into this project after meeting a little girl who wore a prosthetic limb that had limited capabilities while still being expensive. Thus, the idea of Unlimited Tomorrow and improved prosthetics was born. It aims to support people with upper limb disabilities by using additive manufacturing to produce high quality, high value, low cost bionic prosthetic arms. 3D printing allows for the process to be customizable. This happens as after the user answers a few questions, they are then sent a 3D scanner to scan the residual limb. Based on this, the prosthesis, which can also be personalized, is produced with the 3D printer.
A Distinct Prosthesis with UNYQ
3D printing is used at UNYQ to use mass production to create innovative, customized prostheses. In addition to being able to develop next-generation products, additive manufacturing is also used for aesthetically pleasing and practical features. Prostheses for above and below the knee amputees offer patients revolutionary personalization in terms of color and design. Currently, they are even working on manufacturing an entire leg. UNYQ provides its patients with an app to create the 3D-printed prostheses: Color, design and surface can be selected, then measurements are taken in a clinic to finally print the prosthesis using additive manufacturing.
3D Printed Foot Prostheses from Mercuris
Mecuris is a German company dedicated to the development of CAD/CAM software solutions that, together with 3D printing, make it possible to create foot prostheses. Thanks to a digital platform, called Mecuris Solution Platform, users can create and customize their individual models to their liking, saving time and money. In fact, thanks to 3D technology and its flexibility, the company is able to reduce production costs by 75%. With this, Mecuris’ goal is to convert traditional craftsmanship into digital tools and workflows that are easy to use according to the needs of each individual, and accompanying customers in every step of the process.
LimbForge Offers Prostheses in Remote Regions
LimbForge, a US-based non-profit organization, works on creating software, design and innovative manufacturing with 3D scanning and 3D printing. With these tools they are able to develop and deliver high quality and affordable custom prosthetics. LimbForge has developed and implemented a platform that allows clinicians to spend less time customizing devices and more time treating a greater number of patients. Its platform provides more realistic designs that help patients integrate and thrive, reduces costs and also offers ultralight prosthetics. The Limbforge platform can be used to size and implement other designs beyond its existing catalog. In fact, once a prosthetic design is in the database, it can be easily configured to fit almost any human anatomy. Notably, the platform is being used to help amputees in developing countries to gain access to high quality prostheses.
3D Printing the Prostheses of the Future
Evan Kuester is an engineer, artist and designer currently working as a Senior Advanced Applications Engineer at 3D Systems. In addition to that, Kuester is pursuing a number of interesting projects using additive manufacturing. Among them is the development of prosthetics with extremely modern and futuristic designs. For example, in the photo below we see the JD-2 prosthesis model, created with the intention of further exploring the possibilities available to designers with SLS 3D printing technology. Its inner mesh-like structure is intended to reduce the weight of the prosthesis as well as to achieve a more pleasing aesthetic.
“Hero Arm”, a Hero for Life
Open Bionics was the first company in the world to launch a 3D printed bionic arm that would not only be clinically tested but also medically certified. This 3D printed arm is called “Hero Arm” and combines functionality, comfort and design. It is customizable and includes sensors to detect muscle movements, thus providing more ease to move. It would even be able to lift up to 8 kilos, a rather high weight when we know that the prosthesis is put and removed quickly. Open Bionics offers complete customisation of the prosthesis, a real advantage for the person who wears it, who can then create it in his own image. A particularly attractive point for children who often choose a prosthesis with the image of their hero!
3D Prostheses for the Needy
In Africa, many countries have a healthcare system that is unable to treat injuries caused by traffic accidents or infections, so it continues to experience a large number of amputations. That is why there are several non-profit organizations that want to bring printing technologies to anyone in need and anywhere in the world. One example is Ayúdame 3D, a Spanish organization that promotes the social value of technology through technological-social awareness programs in order to help vulnerable groups around the world. Both it and 3D Sierra Leone create 3D printed arms, free of charge, for people with disabilities. Thanks to this, they manage to improve their quality of life and that of their environment, reduce the inequality they face and provide them with greater opportunities for schooling and employability.
Naked Prosthetics and Resin 3D Printing
Based in the United States, Naked Prosthetics (NP) is a company dedicated to the development of functional prosthetic devices for hands and fingers. To do so, they rely on resin 3D printing, specifically stereolithography, with which they create these customized models adapted to the needs of each user. Thanks to 3D printing, Naked Prosthetics is able to deliver the prosthetic devices within a few weeks. As they state on their website, NP’s mission is to help people with partial amputation of fingers and hands, to change their lives positively through functional and high quality prostheses.
A Fully 3D Printed Ocular Prosthesis
We recently learned of the UK case of Steve Verze, a Londoner, who became the first person in the world to receive a fully 3D printed ocular prosthesis. The printed prosthesis is part of a collaboration between several players in the UK and Europe, and was led by researchers at UCL and Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. The result? A prosthetic eye is impressively realistic thanks to its clearer definition and lifelike depth which was made possible with eye socket scans to ensure a good match.
Lattice Medical, Fighting Breast Cancer with 3D Printing
Taking on breast cancer – that’s what Lattice MEdical, a company founded in Lille, aims to do. Founded in 2017, the company has produced a bioprosthesis called MATTISSE, which could offer an alternative to the silicone prostheses commonly used to help treat breast cancer patients. The silicone prostheses commonly used have to be replaced about every 10 years for safety reasons, which is why the MATTISSE bioprosthesis is made of an absorbable material that can be optimally adapted to the patient’s morphology thanks to the use of additive manufacturing. Lattice Medical uses FDM technology to be able to create the natural reconstruction as they regenerate the patient’s own fatty tissue.