Printed Prosthetics: A Practical Alternative Human
ever thought about having a robot arm? Technology has been developed so quickly
that it is now unsurprising to see robotic machines around us. The medical
robotics has opened a new world: prosthetics. The 3D printed prosthetics are
receiving attention from many experts as well as amputees due to their
efficiency; the 3D printed prosthetics will be the new openings of medical
innovations among many different kinds of prosthetics.
people around the world who have lost their limbs suffer from getting
prosthetic care. Around 35 million people live with limb-loss and only 5% of
them have access to prosthetic care (Limbforge, 2017). Particularly, “for approximately
1.7 million people in the United States living without one or more of their
natural limbs, the process of acquiring a prosthetic one is exhausting”
(Andrews, 2013). Getting a prosthetic limb requires several steps and it is
time-consuming and costly due to its complexity.
The price of a new prosthetic leg can cost
anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000. But even the most expensive prosthetic limbs
are built to withstand only three to five years of wear and tear, meaning they
will need to be replaced over the course of a lifetime, and they’re not a
one-time cost (ABCNews.com, 2013).
People usually lose their limbs due to accidents, wars, and natural
disasters. Those people need to replace their limbs with another through
prosthetic care. However, there are only limited numbers of specialists who can
afford prosthetic care (Limbforge, 2017). “80% of people in need of prosthetic
care live in the developing countries and WHO estimates that an additional
40,000 specialists will be necessary to serve all those in need” (2017). The
high price and shortage of specialists forces amputees to experience hardships
in accessing prosthetic care when needed.
3D printed prosthetics
are a very practical solution to these problems because they are cost
effective, efficient, suitable, and diverse. The biggest problem with accessing
prosthetic care is the cost, however, 3D printed prosthetics are cheap compared
to other prosthetics. This is because a 3D printed limb is made of inexpensive
plastic materials (Pultarova, 2016). “The use of 3D-printing allows the
engineers to only use the exact amount of material they need, avoiding waste
and thus optimizing the cost” (Pultarova, 2016).
Ryan Bouricius, a physicist in Ithaca
College, said, “the nice thing about 3-D printing is that the price only has to
do with the amount of plastic used, not the complexity of the piece. So even
though my modified pieces are trickier shapes, since it’s the same amount of
plastic, it’s the same amount of money” (2016).
Other than the cost, another benefit of 3D printed prosthetics is the speed
because it can be done within a day. The way 3D printed prosthetics are made is
same with anything else made with a 3D printer. For example, if a person wants
to get a 3D printed limb, then what that person needs to do is just select or
create a design for the limb and print it. “Akin to printing a document,
printing a prosthetic is quickly becoming as easy as pressing “print” and
watching the 3D printer build layer upon layer” (Schwartz, 2016).Therefore, a
3D printed prosthetic limb can be created faster than any other prosthetics,
making it a better method for those who need urgent care. Furthermore, a 3D
printed prosthetic is designed to suit the owner, making it personal (Dealing
With Different, n.d.). There are many different kinds of 3D printable
prosthetics so that any amputees can choose or create their own designs. To put
it concretely, “wrist actuated designs currently suggested are Phoenix Hand,
Raptor Reloaded, Osprey Hand, Talon, Cyborg Beast, Ody Hand, and Flexy Hand and
elbow actuated designs currently available are Team Unlimbited Arm and RIT Arm”
(Enabling The Future, 2018).
Figure 1 Flexy Hand, a
model for wrist actuated designs
Figure 2 RIT Arm, a
model for elbow actuated designs
Lastly, they are stretchable and expandable, making them suitable for
children (Dealing With Different, n.d.). Since children grow, they often have
to change their prosthetics to fit well. However, prosthetics are expensive
that is not affordable for some people. Stretchable and expandable 3D printed
prosthetics are the best solution for people those problems since they don’t
need to replace prosthetics often. Because of these benefits, the 3D printed prosthetics are
already being used around the world. For instance, Daniel Omar was fitted with a 3D-printed
prosthetic arm after losing both arms during an aerial attack in Sudan (Birrell,
Also, Abdulla, one of the volunteers of
e-NABLE Aden team, said, ” Mossa, 18 years old boy, lost his left hand by an explosive war
remnant… We found Mossa at the prosthesis centre and he was pleased to try the
UnLimbited design. He loved the design and gave us valuable feedback” (Owen,
The 3D printed prosthetics are highly evaluated due to their
advantages, and they are being used throughout the world, making them a more
practical solution for the amputees than any other prosthetics.
perfect in the world. Despite their numerous advantages, the 3D printed
prosthetics also have disadvantages. There are many different kinds of 3D printable
prosthetics, but there is a limitation. Currently, “the e-NABLE community does
not have a design that will work for those who have above elbow limb
The Future, 2018).
Moreover, though their products are cheap,
customizable, and quickly made, they have run into problems with durability.
Their volunteers are not professional prothetists, who undergo years of
training, and every product is not FDA tested and approved. Therefore, the
products break far more often than traditional prosthetics. 3D printed
prosthetics are created by thin layers of hot plastic, so when pulled the wrong
way, they can break very easily (Reidel, 2017).
3D printed prosthetics have several disadvantages, they still have a bright
future. The benefits of the 3D printed prosthetics outweigh its drawbacks of
them, and the developing technologies will be able to overcome those drawbacks.
3D printers are becoming compatible with many new materials,
like lightweight titanium, increasing durability and strength. Prosthetics will
also become more comfortable by using multi-material 3D printing methods to
create more natural sockets that better interface with the human body (Schwartz,
An e-NABLE volunteer teamed up with a UK based engineer, Steve
Wood, to develop something more durable and flexible. They used a material
called Filaflex to create a successful prosthetic, but the finished product
costs closer to $2,000, which, compared to most e-NABLE products, is a lot.
However, it is still cheaper than most traditional prosthetics…Yet, 3D printed
prosthetics are providing a much needed service for amputees who don’t possess
the income to purchase a professionally made prosthetic, and especially for
children, who outgrow prosthetics more readily. Methods and materials will be
improved and refined over time and International Data Corporation (IDC)
reported that 3D printing for medical implants and devices is growing market
share nearly 13% in 2020 and 15% for dental (Reidel, 2017).
“Volunteer printers also take time to learn the proper way to regulate
temperature, which can lead to cracks in the finished product” (Reidel, 2017). Efforts put into
3D printed prosthetic to overwhelm its drawbacks will definitely
make an enormous progress towards not only the medical field, but also the
whole world in the future.
3D printing technology
had great impacts on the medical field through a new innovation called 3D
printed prosthetics. They are the most practical solution for most of the
amputees due to their benefits: cost effectiveness, efficiency, suitability,
and diversity. The outweighing benefits and developing technologies will overcome
the drawbacks of 3D printed prosthetics and they will soon become the ultimate
solution for everyone who has had limb-loss and especially those who suffer
from gaining access to prosthetic care caused by certain reasons.
Cost of a New Limb Can Add up Over a Lifetime.” HSS. April 25, 2013.
Andrews, Travis. “Can
We Really 3-D Print Limbs for Amputees?.” The Atlantic. August 23,
Birrell, Ian. “3D-printed
prosthetic limbs: the next revolution in medicine.” The Guardian.
Dally, Corinne, et
al. Characteristics of a 3D-printe hand
for use in developing countries. Seattle:
2015. IEEE Xplore. Web. 3 December.
Different. “The Future is Here: 3D Printed Prosthetics.” Dealing With Different.
Future. “Which design?.” Enabling The Future. (n.d.).
Limb Forge. “About
Limb-Loss”. Limb Forge. (n.d.)..
Owen, Jen. “E-NABLING
Aden – Yemen.” Enabling The Future. January 2, 2018.
Pultarova, Tereza. “Low
cost 3-printed hand making prosthetics more affordable.” E.
Reidel, Heidi. “The
Successes and Failures of 3D Printed Prosthetics.” Prescouter. July 13,
“The future of 3D-printed prosthetics.” Tech Crunch. June 26, 2016.