Medical 3D Printing (Part 1): Prosthetics, Orthotics, Bionics

By Ricky Shannon on

In the past decade, new additive technologies have emerged, empowering researchers and lending more accurate, costumizable solutions to the medical industry. In our blog, we outline how additive technologies enable tailor-made prosthetics, orthotics and bionics.

Why the need for 3D printing in prosthetics, orthotics and bionics?

According to Amputee Coalition, there are approximately 2 million US residence living with limb loss, with another 185,000 added each year. These individuals strive to overcome aesthetic and mobility challenges with use of prosthetics, technologically advanced bionics and orthotics. Unfortunately, traditional manufacturing processes and materials can create physical and financial barriers that make these devices difficult to implement. In this blog, we explore how the healthcare industry can utilize 3D printing and 3D scanning to overcome these hurdles. 

3D Scanned ProstheticProsthetics

Traditionally, prothetics consist of casting anatomy and then manually making molds, which is a labor intensive and expensive process that requires long lead time. This poses a challenge for patients, especially younger children, because they quickly outgrow their customized prosthetics. But with companies like Stratasys and Artec 3D, sockets can evolve as the patient heals.

One example of this is in the case of a Russian skydiver named Olga, who lost the majority of her gastrocnemius during a jump. This left her right leg visibly different form her left leg. Olga reached out to a Russian-based online 3D printing service to see if they could produce a 3D printed prosthetic. Using an Artec Eva 3D scanner and SOLIDWORKS CAD software, they were able to scan Olga’s legs and design a custom prosthetic. The design was printed as an interlocking two-part device that would wrap around the injured lower right leg and accurately mirrored the shape of her left leg, allowing Olga to live more comfortably with the injury.

>> Download the full case study to learn more about Olga’s story


Orthotics and Prosthetics Case StudyIn the case of young children, the difficulties of limb loss are twofold because children require 1) high mobility and 2) a solution that addresses the steady physical growth of the child. Parents of children like Alex Pring, a six-year-old boy who was born without his lower right arm, are faced with traditional options of prosthetics and bionics. These can cost upwards of $40,000 and will be rapidly outgrown as the child develops.

But with the help of Stratasys 3D printers, Alex was able to be fitted with a highly functioning, lightweight modular prosthetic. The custom prosthetic was printed on a Stratasys Dimension Elite 3D printer using low cost ABS plastic parts. It was then paired with off-the-shelf electronics/hardware, providing a solution for Alex and his family that overcame the physical and financial limitations of the existing prosthetic market.

>> Download the full case study to learn more about Alex’s story


SSYS Exoskeleton Img 2.pngThere are also many cases where patients don’t suffer limb loss but still have limited mobility of an existing limb due to trauma or a medical condition – many of these individuals rely on the use of orthotics to help increase the mobility and functionality of their affected limb. 

In the case of Emma Lavelle, a then two-year-old girl born with a rare condition that left her without the strength to lift her arms, an innovative, modular and lightweight solution was paramount. Traditionally, a device called a Wilmington Robotic Exoskeleton (WREX), which is an aluminum exoskeleton that utilizes resistance bands and mechanical advantages, would help individuals overcome limited strength in their arms. However, existing WREX devices were too heavy and bulky for a child of Emma’s stature to use.

With the help of doctors at the Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, the WREX device was redesigned to be modular and utilize lightweight and durable plastics. Many of the components were produced on a Stratasys Dimension SST 1200ES 3D printer in ABSplus plastic. FDM materials have a range of performance properties that offer low cost-per-part and modular design capabilities that can be adapted to young children as they grow over time. Emma quickly adapted to the use of the new WREX device, gaining functionality and strength of her arms. The device is now in use by many children with similar needs across the country.

>> Download full case study to learn more about Emma’s story

Want to learn more? Download our infographic, Designing for Medical Devices.