Adam Bloomfield, 3D Printing Manager, IPFL
3D printing has achieved more progress in the prosthetics industry over the last 20 years than has been made in the last 100 years. Every limb wearer will know that comfort is probably the number one factor that they look for when being fitted for a new limb. For the manufacturer, creating that comfort for every individual within cost effective parameters is a challenge that has been refined over time by plastic fabrication specialists IPFL and one of our prosthetic partners, ProsFit.
For the last ten years, we have worked with ProsFit, founded in Bulgaria, developing the first ever below knee sockets to be awarded European approval for weight bearing up to 100kg. They have gone on to create above-knee sockets, with all socket families regulated for 125kg.
There are two key 3D printing technologies that have accelerated this progress. Initially FDM (Fused Deposition Modelling) production methods were employed, using thermostatic materials to create prosthetic components layer by layer. While this method enabled us to manufacture durable, lightweight sockets, the speed of production remained an issue.
MJF (Multi Jet Fusion) was introduced, creating a faster, more consistent method of manufacture. More importantly, the MJF technique allows for the production of highly detailed and complex structures. This creates a precision that fits seamlessly with the wearer’s body.
Achieving that balance of style and functionality comes down to the accuracy of the fit – the prosthetic limb needs to blend seamlessly with an individual’s natural form. Digital scanning methods can mirror the wearer’s overall physical appearance, producing an accurate foundation for a unique design that can adapt to the wearer’s natural gait and shape more efficiently.
Marrying up the two technologies of digital scanning and MJF printing lends a flexibility and freedom to measuring and fitting prosthetics that can literally be set up in a shipping container and taken anywhere in the world where it may be needed, such as war zones or developing countries with limited healthcare facilities. Within the simplest of environments, an individual can be scanned and fitted with a prosthetic limb that is unique to them, maximising comfort. It ensures that not only is their physical well being taken care of, but that their emotional well being and psychological recovery from the trauma of losing a limb is enhanced by the speed, comfort and functionality of the prosthetic.
And while electronics is particularly important when looking at more industrial applications like robot hands, end of arm tooling and automation is concerned, which can mimic the dexterity and malleability of the human hand, electrical free prosthetics can actually drive a much more human influenced replacement for below elbow amputees.
Through a collaboration with IPFL, prosthetics designers and specialists in body driven prosthetics, can rely on 3D printing to manufacture budget friendly, non-electronic prosthetic hands that move intuitively to the wearer. Such a design eliminates potential mechanical issues, enabling clinicians to produce a product that is reliable, lightweight and wholly in tune with the wearer.
IPFL is a family run business that has been pushing the design boundaries of plastic fabrication since it was first established in 1969. The company was an early adopter of 3D printing technology and works in partnership with organisations driving innovation across a wide range of sectors, including healthcare and medical, automotive, aerospace, electronics and beyond.