3D Printer Increases Availability of Prosthetics


Each year, upwards of 200,000 Americans suffer from the trauma of losing a limb. As anyone who has gone through an amputation will tell you, the grief is immense and the practical consequences are life changing. To add insult to injury, the medical costs for insured and uninsured alike can reach unmanageable proportions. One such cost comes in the form of prosthetic limbs. Thankfully, however, the recent influx of sophisticated and reasonably priced 3D printers are already offering compelling alternatives to those struggling to deal with the financial realities of life after an amputation.


Depending on the site of the amputation and the feature set of the prosthetic limb, the cost can vary, starting in the $5,000 range and quickly climbing as high as $50,000. One significant reason for the substantial cost of prosthetics is this: they need to be custom-made and custom-fitted for the best results. This custom nature of the enterprise prevents the kind of dramatic cost reduction that results from mass production. Add to this the typical life span of prosthetics (around five years) and we see that initial figure increase astronomically over the course of a lifetime.


What about 3D printing?
While this technology has been around for several years, it has only just begun to go mainstream. This means printers that once featured prohibitive costs are now coming closer to earth, a trend that will continue as time goes on. How do they work? Simply put, they print across three axes—instead of the two we are accustomed two—to create 3-dimensional objects. Typically, they rely on durable plastic resins that melt during the printing process—a process that involves setting one layer at a time (allowing for drying between layers) until the object is complete. With newer and stronger substances like titanium recently being incorporated, the dream of a 3D printer being able to create lasting and effective prosthetics is now a reality.


In fact, creating 3D prosthetics is hardly just a theory. People are doing it on a daily basis to fantastic results. For instance, volunteers with e-NABLE designed and printed a prosthetic for a total cost of $50! Compare that to $50,000 and we can all see the potential benefit for the sufferers of amputations and those born with missing limbs. But cost can’t be the only factor. Quality and customizability must factor in as well, and 3D printing offers both. Consider this: when the prosthetic designs are infinitely changeable and each prosthetic costs only $50, the amputee has amazing options. He or she can request revisions until finding the perfect fit. Or the amputee can request multiple variations to suit the different challenges life presents. When cost plummets due to new technology, the options for the consumer open up dramatically, and that is what is happening for amputees.


For those hundreds of thousands of people each year who must face the life-changing consequences of an amputation, the advent of 3D printing offers hope. And this hope is not just about their pocketbooks. It’s a hope that can improve the quality of their life on a daily basis. That’s something we can all be thankful for.


At Designed Living, we see the impact that prosthetics have on patients every day. Contact us today at (949) 353-5400 to learn more about our services.


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