Taken individually, composite fabrication and 3D printing are revolutionary technologies. Combining the two almost always produces amazing results. Take fabricating composite-based prosthetics as an example. If you could combine prosthesis fabrication with 3D printing in an economical process, you could make a difference in the lives of people who depend on their prosthetics.
According to an April 20 Composites World piece written by digital editor Scott Francis, the combination of prosthesis fabrication and 3D printing has arrived. A BASF subsidiary out of Texas – TriFusion Devices – has introduced a new 3D-printed prosthetic leg that includes a revolutionary carbon fiber socket. Francis explained that the socket is key to what makes this prosthesis so revolutionary.
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Composite Layups for Prosthetics
Making prosthetic devices out of composite materials is nothing new. Yet while composites like carbon fiber offer great tensile strength and rigidity, one of the major downsides for prosthesis fabrication is the manual layup process. The process creates challenges that have to be overcome not only by the doctors who order the devices, but also the patients who use them and the therapists who teach them to do so.
For starters, manual layup is a time-consuming process as explained by Utah-based composites provider Rock West Composites. A carbon fiber prosthesis socket could take anywhere from 3 to 4 days to produce. Moreover, the finished product would be somewhat limited in terms of making adjustments. The technician responsible for designing a single socket for an individual patient has to get it right in order to ensure the prosthesis is comfortable and effective.
TriFusion Devices has introduced a definitive prosthesis socket that can be 3D printed in a matter of hours. Better yet, the socket is adjustable. It can be easily adjusted numerous times over the life of the prosthesis without inhibiting the function of the device or weakening its structure.
Why It Makes a Difference
Practically speaking, this has a number of implications. Right off the top is the fact that the prosthesis user can have a brand-new socket ready to be fitted within a day of being scanned. Having to wait 3 to 4 days may not seem like a big deal to most of us, but to someone who relies on a prosthesis for daily functioning, three days is too long to wait. Having a new socket in 24 hours is a lot more appealing.
Even if shorter wait times do not matter to a given patient, the adjustment capability of the new carbon fiber socket is a game-changer. Prosthesis users have to have sockets that fit right. Otherwise, the prosthetic device might be too uncomfortable to wear. A prosthesis that doesn’t fit well also does not give the user the confidence he or she needs to use it as intended. Thus, ill-fitting prostheses are more likely to be left unused.
By creating a carbon fiber socket that can be easily adjusted over its entire life, TriFusion Devices has created a socket that greatly improves the usability of the prosthesis. The socket can be fine-tuned at its original fitting for a secure and comfortable fit. It can then be adjusted over time to compensate for changes to the user’s body.
Anyone who follows the composites industry has to be fascinated to see how technology is driving the industry forward. Who would have thought, just a few decades ago, that carbon fiber and 3D printing would be useful in creating new prosthetic devices that last longer, fit better, and adjust more easily? It is truly amazing to see what we are now capable of thanks to composites.