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How 3D printed orthotics can reshape a patient's life

Introduction

Orthotics are often life-changing devices that can reshape a patient’s life. To maximize their support, every orthotic has to be custom-made, as no two patients are the same, and size differs from person to person. In the past, custom-made devices were challenging to produce and had a considerable price tag. With the continuous development of 3D printing, it is set to revolutionize the healthcare industry and provide fastly produced custom-made orthotics at an affordable price.

As an online 3D printing service Sculpteo has already worked with different clients to create orthotic devices. But how exactly can 3D printing be the missing puzzle piece? Let’s find out!

What are orthotics?

In general, orthotics are fitted externally and help to recover or support certain parts of the human body. There are devices for different body parts: the torso, head, upper extremities, like hands or arms, and lower extremities, such as legs and feet. The orthotics are also distinguished through their function: paralysis, relief, and soft. 

Paralysis orthoses come into use when the patient lost has a total failure of their muscles or shows incomplete paralysis. The goal of paralysis orthoses is to help and support the patient in tackling functional limitations. Relief orthoses are often used after operations or after injuries. Soft braces are devices like a bandage that has the intent of protecting joints from too much load.

What is 3D-printing?

3D printing is a relatively new manufacturing technology that offers new ways to make proofs of concept, prototypes, or end products. 3D printing is an umbrella term for different printing techniques, such as plastic, resins, powder, or metal. Often there is the assumption that those printed parts are rigid and bulky. However, through many different material innovations over the last few decades, many different materials have various properties, like flexibility and hardness.

3D-printed orthotics

Now that it is clear what orthotics and 3D printing are in general. What are the advantages of using 3D printing as a manufacturing process for orthotics? 

  • Mass customization

The possibility of creating perfectly shaped orthotics is a big advantage of 3D printing. Traditional manufacturing processes could make pretty well-shaped orthotics. However, for the optimal care, support, and comfort of the patient 3D printing offer a whole new set of opportunities. With the help of a 3D scanner, an essential element for the whole process, the patient or a medical professional can create a 3D file. The 3D scanner opens the door for health professionals who do not have the perfect knowledge and skill to develop and design a device. 

  • Cost-effective

With its unique processing style, making 3D-printed orthotics is often cheaper than the one made the traditional way. There is no big material waste, as the printer only uses as much material as it needs for the orthotics. Furthermore, producing just one device is easier without high costs. 

  • Fast production 

3D printing also impresses with fast production, which is especially important when the orthotics are needed as fast as possible. 

  • Option to work with an experienced Service Bureau 

Working with additive manufacturing can often be quite intimidating, especially if it is an entirely new field. However, there is no reason to be anxious. Many 3D printing service providers have expertise not only in 3D printing but also in the medical sector. So collaborating with a service bureau is always a good idea to share knowledge and create the best possible patient version. 

What companies specialize in 3D-printed orthotics?

As there is a higher demand for 3D-printed orthotics, quite a few companies are specialists in this industry. Let’s take a look at some examples!

Daniel Robert Orthopedics

Together with Daniel Robert Orthopedics, we worked on an orthotic project focused on the design freedom and flexibility 3D printing offers. 

Daniel Robert Orthopedics is a swiss firm that offers specialized services in fields such as technical orthopedics, orthotics, prostheses, rehabilitation positioning, and special footwear. 

The aim is to create an orthosis that is custom-fit to the patient’s needs, allowing them flexibility and comfort. The challenges for Daniel Robert Orthopedics were that every design had to be completely individualized and fitted for each patient’s unique needs and that the production quality had to be consistent and repeatable. If you want to know how this challenge was met using 3D printing, read our customer story.

Spentys

The start-up from Belgium has developed software for perfectly suited immobilization devices. According to Spentys, this software makes the creation by medical professionals of needed devices faster and cheaper. Another advantage of the Spentys software is the easy-to-use interface. It provides a step-by-step introduction to the design workflow and enables the professional to design the device directly on the patient’s scan.

ActivArmor

ActivArmor is based in the United States and produces orthoses and splints. The advantage of an Activamor cast is that it gives the wearer more mobility than normal plaster would do. After the patient has a doctor’s prescription, the scan for the cast can be done by the iPhone App. Every design by ActivArmor is custom designed and printed. Via the ActivAmor online portal, the doctor can simply select a cast design for the patient. The casts are waterproof.

Invent Medical

According to Invent Medical helping people is their mission. Their goal is the invention, development, and design of perfectly fitted orthotics & prosthetics to improve the patient’s treatment outcomes. For this, Invent Medical offers software. The company is a big believer that the device should not only fit the patient but should also match the fashion and lifestyle of set person. This makes it easier to accept the device. 

The Czech-based firm has been using additive manufacturing for more than 12 years.

Twikit

Another Belgian start-up is Twikit. Their software, “TwikFit,” focuses on orthotics and sports devices and personalized consumer goods. Twikit enables medical professionals to design and create orthotics in their offices without engineering skills. An advantage of their software is that it includes the whole device workflow from the order to production. In collaboration with Twikit, we also published an e-book about “Enabling Mass-Customization in the Medical Sector.” It is about how medical projects can use the full potential of additive manufacturing and gives the best tips to reach your goals. 

Mecuris

Mecuris is another start-up, but this time from Germany. Their developed software impresses through an intuitive setup that is easy to use and needs almost no time to get used to. They say their software can be compared to a “digital orthotics workshop.” Mecuris software includes many different modules, such as a correction one, a modeling one, and a creator one. When working with Mecuris a 3D printing services Bureau like Sculpteo is needed to print the device.

Taika3D

The Finish start-up was created out of a problem: The creation of complex and custom designs swiftly and consistently. With their technology, they provide laboratories with the opportunity to 3D print mass customization but with design freedom. The cloud platform to create a design is fitted for every customer’s product and workflow. Thus, improving constituency, accuracy, and speed of design. A scanning App is included in the platform, but Taika also allows input from various 3D scanners.

Artus3D

Artus3D is a Dutch start-up that specializes solely in hand braces. They provide a scanner that can scan a full hand in about two minutes and uploads the image directly into the Artus3D Cloud. From there, it is accessible everywhere. The Artus3D software goes ahead and corrects the scan and creates a digital model of the hand. When everything is checked and adjusted, the 3D printer receives the file and prints the device.

What materials are suited for orthotics?

3D printing offers many innovative materials. However, not all are suited to skin contact. So which materials can be considered? 

Nylon PA12 is a polymer powder that is perfectly suited to substitute injection molding plastics. Nylon PA12 is excellent for both experienced professionals and beginning designers because of its high precision and low cost.

PA11 is not only an excellent substitute for PA12 but is also suitable for skin contact and, therefore, a perfect material to print an orthotic with. Ultrasint® PA11 is a bio-derived powder with exceptionally high toughness. This material has the particularity of offering high ductility and impact strength for all applications.

Ultrasint® TPU01 has high flexibility and shock absorption properties and is perfect for footwear or orthopedic models. 

Where to print a orthotics?

It is possible to print orthotics on a desktop printer at home and use it. However, it is not always the best idea. Not all 3D printing materials are approved for skin contact, which is required when printing orthotics. Another option would be to let a 3D service bureau manufacture the brace. You would have many advantages when working with an online 3D-Printing service like Sculpteo. 

  • Close contact had support.

No matter in which part of the process you need help. We are here. From the first idea. to the first draft, design, and changes. Our experts at Sculpteo Studio always have an open ear and try to solve problems. 

  • Industrial Printer 

As a service bureau, we have many different industrial 3D printers. This saves investment costs and the needed knowledge to operate those heavy machines. 

  • Takeover of production

When working and ordering with a 3D-printing service bureau, you have the luxury to lean back and let us do the work. After you upload your finished 3D file we print the part and send it to your delivery address. 

If you have any questions about the process or printing orthotics, please feel free to contact our team. They will be happy to help you find the correct answer. 

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