3D printing: the future of orthotics

September 2018

Here at Dynamic Medical, we love to keep up to date with what’s going on in the medical world – in orthopaedics as well as elsewhere. In the past, we’ve written about the exciting progress that 3D printing has made possible in orthopaedics – specifically the partnership between Stryker and 3D Systems, which you can read here. But recently, this innovative and speedy production method has demonstrated its use in orthotics, too.

3D printing offers speed and ease of device production that has hardly been witnessed before, and is a welcome change to usually slow and cumbersome medical developments. The technology can be used to quickly and easily print totally personalised prosthetics, implants and orthoses that are bespoke for the user and can be easily maintained by the patient or an experienced medical practitioner over time.

One UK company, Crispin Orthotics, has struck up a partnership with 3D printing and tech giant HP. Leeds-based Crispin Orthotics are a HCPC registered clinic that produces and maintains bespoke orthoses. The company saw the need for a new faster, more flexible 3D printing solution and CAD (Computer Aided Design) package in order to help them meet a growing demand for orthotics. It was important that the company were able to reduce printing costs and increase the speed of production in order to deliver quality products quickly to customers.

HP’s Multi Jet Fusion 3D printer was quickly picked up by Crispin Orthotics as being the tech offering with the best fit for their needs. The device offers a 50% reduction in cost, and a ten-fold decrease in production time, meaning that hundreds of customised, personal orthotics could potentially be produced in a twelve-hour overnight production cycle.

In order to put the parts through a rigorous testing procedure, the HP 3D printer was paired with Siemens NX software optimisation. This software incorporates topology capabilities, which enables technicians to add or take away bulk and strength to certain areas of an orthotic device. Strength and impact durability tests were carried out, to make sure that the devices created were capable of sustaining a full range of human movement. Then, a 3D-printed orthotic was produced that was designed for the arm, with an integrated joint at the elbow and a prosthetic attachment device at the end. The device was printed from nylon, a lightweight and durable material that withstood the rigorous testing applied by Crispin Orthotics.

Managing Director Mark Thaxter said: “3D scanning and printing has revolutionised the speed and quality of parts we’re able to produce for clients. Having the ability to create a bespoke device that is lightweight, durable and accurate to 0.2mm has obvious benefits to the user. The business also benefits from the speed of 3D printing parts as well as cost savings of approximately 40 per cent on each part by removing the need for multiple components in the supply chain and assembly.”

He continued: “Using 3D scanning and printing also provides greater freedom on the design of products, particularly those with complex geometry. Having the ability to vary the thickness of the device in certain parts also allows us to produce devices not possible with current methods of manufacturing.”

3D printing is a fantastic method of device production which allows costs and production time to be reduced dramatically. This means in the long term that cutting-edge equipment that can be fully customised to a patient’s needs will be readily available. We’re excited to see where revolutionary 3D printing will lead next!

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