Saturday, March 08, 2014

3D Printing Low-Cost Prosthetics Parts in Uganda

Researchers at the University of Toronto, in collaboration with Autodesk Research (Toronto, Ontario) and CBM Canada (Stouffville, Ontario) are employing 3D-printing techniques to produce cheap, fast, and easily customizable prosthetic sockets for use in the developing world. I was invited to check out the lab on behalf of Medgadget to get a better idea of what’s the latest in custom printed prosthetic devices.
Ryan Schmidt: We first create a 3D scan of the limb using an Xbox Kinect. We can bring that digital limb into Autodesk Meshmixer, smooth out the rough scan mesh, and use it directly to design the socket. We create a molded “bucket” around the limb’s contours, and can use Meshmixer to quickly push and pull parts of the design to modify its shape. In the end, the model is sent to a 3D printer, which prints the socket in a few hours using PLA (poly lactic acid), a thermoplastic that is easily modifiable with heat. This method can make a typical socket for under $10;;
Medgadget: What benefits does this 3D printing method have over the traditional method?
Matt Ratto: The traditional method involves wrapping an amputated limb with a plastic mold to first create a negative cast. Once that dries, plaster is poured into the negative cast to make a positive cast, which serves as a representation of the actual limb. Finally, a socket is molded around the positive cast, and can be used upon curing.
Ryan Schmidt: The traditional method is very time-consuming, especially if iteration needs to be done. It’s a destructive process, so any modifications destroy the original molds, and that information is lost. The method we use with 3D printing allows for a quick scan to digitize the limb, simplifying the process. It allows for quick and non-destructive modifications.
3D scanning has become increasingly widespread, and the capabilities of 3D printers have been steadily improving. The missing piece now, and the novelty of Meshmixer, is the ability to deal with the data and models and link the scanning and fabrication.


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