“Esoteric euphoria.” That’s what our Additive Manufacturing team felt when watching Team GB in the Men’s Hockey at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Obviously, we were saddened by our trouncing from India in the Quarter Finals, but, the fact of the matter is, *that* mask worn by Samuel Ward… we made that.
More specifically, we 3D printed the custom Raptor Mask on behalf of 3D Ortho Pro on our HP Multi Jet Fusion 5200. The PA 11 Nylon print then underwent a finishing process of surface polishing and dyeing before assembly.
The Raptor Mask, a bespoke protection device made specifically to fit the contours of Sam Ward’s face, is an example of the rapidly emerging trend in personalised orthoses, prostheses and body armour produced through polymer additive manufacturing, or 3D Printing.
Aside from the obvious, recent scale up in vaccine development, very little over the last two years has driven a market trend in the medical and healthcare sector as fast as the advent of utilising additive manufacturing methods for creating custom orthoses and prostheses.
Traditional methods of fabrication, including casting and moulding, are labour intensive, time consuming, and often involve copious amounts of material waste. Now, we can print orthotics from insoles to skull caps that exactly fit an individual’s anthropometrics in a few hours. Using some technical wizardry that converts a precise scan of the individual’s foot (or head) to a CAD file, labour intensity is also removed from the equation.
In 2019, the medical and healthcare industry was deliberating whether additive manufacturing was going to be ‘a good thing’. The two main concerns were, a) the lack of ‘integrated technologies with additive manufacturing procedure’, and b) would the resultant product really meet functional requirements and yet provide comfort to the wearer?
The ‘integrated technologies’ issue has been resolved. Invent Medical, for example, has created a 3D printing digital platform, with the aim of ‘democratising’ 3D printing for healthcare specialists. The configuration software is free. The system amalgamates AI, machine learning, anatomical data and algorithms, shortening design time of a custom orthosis to minutes and driving costs down.
And, as for comfort and functionality? When something is a perfect fit, much of the comfort factor and some of the functionality is taken care of. The remainder pretty much comes down to design and materials.
Design freedom and mass customisation
Polymer additive manufacturing offers some unique advantages over traditional orthotic and prosthetic creation methods. For example, it’s a relatively simple process to integrate complex lattices and material voids within the orthosis. Where voids enable ‘lightweighting’; lattice structures complement in at least two ways – they strengthen the structure; and deliver on customised cushioning and impact protection.
Thus, when it comes to design, structural complexity isn’t a limiting factor. The beauty of additive manufacturing is that material is only added where it needs to go. Complexity won’t impact production costs significantly. Costs may actually come down due to lower material consumption. This, in turn, gives you the opportunity to optimise your designs during development without having to modify moulds or create new tools, or incur the costs every time you make a slight adjustment.
Image by kind permission of Ortho 3D Pro