3D printing has become an indispensable tool in many areas, including the assistive technology industry and patient care. Ever-better printers and customization options for articulated support splints or prosthetic devices benefit both care providers and users.
A customized orthosis often fits better than standard models.
The advantage for patients is obvious: They get a customized device that can be made quickly. Unlike in the past, this process does not require casting or the use of plaster to create a mold that serves as a template for a prosthesis or orthosis. 3D printing uses a scanner instead, which can be implemented via a tablet or a special handheld device (this videofeatures a hand scanner used by rahm Zentrum für Gesundheit. German language). The computer subsequently uses the collected data to help create the desired product. A special pen is used to model the design in virtual space. Once the desired model has been created on the computer, it is sent to the 3D printer.
Some medical supply stores have an onsite printer, while others contract an external service provider. But does this mean that other processes have now become obsolete? Not so, says André Dick, Head of Digital Orthopedic Technology at rahm Zentrum für Gesundheit GmbH. "3D printing does not replace the conventional manufacturing process for prosthetics and orthotics. Rather, it complements orthopedic technology by adding a versatile technique. The interaction of tried and tested methods such as silicone and carbon technologies and 3D printing offers a multitude of possibilities, thus expanding products ranges by care approaches that were previously inconceivable."
Personalized care: More than a buzzword
Apart from prosthetics and orthotics for everyday use, some customers also have special requests for medical supply stores. Mobility is an area where often only a customized prosthetic can help - and that doesn’t just mean a device for walking, but also one for driving purposes! Special prosthetics can help steer a car if the user is missing a hand, for example. They can also offer support if leg mobility is impaired, as this example in the video shows (video in german language). The medical supply store rahm is collaborating with F. Sodermanns Automobile GmbH - likewise an exhibitor at REHACARE (click herefor more information and articles about the Sodermanns vehicle conversion company) - to match the needs and wishes of customers even better.
A steering wheel with driving aid and special prosthesis on the accelerator-brake slider for a wheelchair user with an amputated right hand.
Production follows application
Whether 3D printing ends up being the technology that’s used to make the assistive product obviously also depends on the intended application. Generally, the durability and lifespan of the devices are assured. "The lifespan of 3D-printed devices very much depends on the application. That is why it’s important to assess when 3D printing or when a time-tested method such as carbon fiber reinforced polymer use ends up being the best care approach in a setting. But if a 3D printed device is your choice, it is designed to last," says Dick.
The technology is rapidly evolving. It is continuously being improved and vulnerabilities and mistakes are being fixed. The expert is certain that "3D printing technology will be an important part of the future. We all know technology is changing our world at a rapid pace, which is why we can’t possibly predict which new technologies will revolutionize the market in the next few years. What we can say is that the combination of tried-and-tested and innovative methods leads to amazing care options and that the future will hold many solutions in store that we might not even think possible today."