When it comes to fitting and producing prosthetics, the current methods are generally inconvenient for both the doctor and the patient since the orthotics are one size fits all in many cases, and in the instances where they're made to fit, the production process is slow and costly.
Take for example the Ankle Foot Orthosis (or AFO, for those in the know), which can correct foot and ankle disorders in children. The brace keeps the foot and lower leg in place, providing a stable base so children can develop their motor skills and build strength around the joint properly.
Making an AFO takes many appointments, which includes scanning, molding, vacuum heat forming and fittings. It can take as long as one month and may cost up to $2000.
Enter 3d printing.
Last year, a group of students at Gonzaga University decided to implement faster prototyping procedures that could reduce the number of fittings and create an improved, less costly AFO. According to the students involved the idea they had was to “create a simple, easily 3D printed AFO with the best composition and geometry to meet strength and comfort requirements for patients.”
The goal of reducing the excessive fittings was achieved with 3D printing processes that created models based on the patients leg and foot down to a precise millimeter, locally and for less money than previous production methods.
According to McKenzie Horner, one of the researchers at Gonzaga University, “We want to 3D print large braces (up to 18 inches), and we need to print with a variety of materials as we research the best design for the braces,”. McKenzie added that their “3d platform helped solve the problem by providing a versatile large-format 3D printer that helps us with our materials research and AFO printing. We were able to print a full-scale proof of concept immediately, and the open platform software capabilities allow us to prepare a print easily from a doctor’s 3D scan of a patient’s leg.”
The students were able to reduce the entire process of fitting the AFO to two days, from four weeks. That's a 93% cut.