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Medical 3D printer for personalised orthotic devices

  1. Oct 22, 2012 #1


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    Orthotics are externally applied devices that modify the structure and function of muscular and skeletal systems. They help patients with a variety of conditions from fracture recovery to degenerative diseases like spina bifida. Personalised devices can take months to hand craft and be quite expensive for the health service but research like this promises to not only speed up but lower the cost. I'm not much of a medical device guy but stuff like this really excites me. Such a simple solution that could help so many patients without costing an arm and a leg.

    Embracing additive manufacture: implications for foot and ankle orthosis design.
    Telfer S, Pallari J, Munguia J, Dalgarno K, McGeough M, Woodburn J.
    BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders. 2012;13:84

    3D printer 'could help millions walk', say researchers
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2012
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  3. Oct 22, 2012 #2


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    Interesting. I've been told by our MEs that the 3-D printers we use here at my work have a limitation in the materials that can be used -- one of the limitations is that the final plastic pieces are not very strong, and are a bit brittle. I wonder if there are other materials that are compatible with the 3-D printing processes that have higher strength and toughness. It would seem that orthotics would need to be fairly strong, depending on the application...
  4. Oct 22, 2012 #3


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    I have a friend who builds repraps (a low budget 3D printer) with his reprap. The pieces that come out are pretty strong; you can select a variety of plastics for extrusion.
  5. Oct 22, 2012 #4


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    The range of materials that can be used and the techniques to "cure" them, are still developing, but AFAIK the materials are limited to plastics and polymers.

    There are research projects effectively doing "3D printing" of metal objects, using a computer controlled electric welder to build a solid object entirely from welding wire (Google for "shaped metal deposition") but that is probably outside of your price range.

    You could consider using a 3D-printed object to create a mould for casting a metal part, using the "lost wax" casting process. The basic idea is
    1. Make the 3D shape from a low melting point material
    2. Spray coat it with a material (e.g. a ceramic) that can withstand the metal casting operation.
    3. Remove the original material by melting it out of the ceramic mould.
    4. Cast the object in metal.

    This can produce very high quality components (both surface finish and material properties) from any castable material. You might be able to find a specialist foundry that can work from your 3D printed parts.
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