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3D printing has revolutionized a wide range of industries – and now, thanks to a Stratasys-driven venture, orthotics could be the next field to undergo a transformation.
Stratasys, the global leader in 3D printing, has entered into a joint venture with the University of Michigan and Altair Engineering called the CYBER team. The CYBER team was recently selected by the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute and its America Makes initiative to create orthotics 3D printing solutions and to therefore to further the contributions of 3D printing technology to recent medical industry innovations.
What makes orthotics the next field to see change brought about by 3D printing?
To highlight the need, it’s important to look at the manufacturing process behind creating customized ankle-foot orthoses (AFO). First, a technician or orthotist creates an impression of the lower leg using fiberglass material. Plaster is then poured into the impression to create a model. After modifying the model by hand, they use a vacuum to form a sheet of thermoplastic around the model before hand-trimming the model to its final form.
This process takes two to four weeks and involves a high degree of skill and experience. During the process, orthotists go through a lot of plaster. Also, it can be difficult to optimize the structure of the AFO due to the materials used. Additionally, it’s hard to incorporate modern analysis to make sure the AFO has the required strength and flexibility.
Changing the Game with 3D Printing
As a part of the CYBER team, Stratasys is using its 3D printers to help simplify and optimize the process.
Using online technology, the 3D printing process can:
- Reduce delivery time from two to four weeks to just a day
- Make models more accurate (plaster shrinks when it dries; 3D printing material doesn’t)
- Completely reduce the need for multiple visits to the facility, which reduces cost
The combined experience and expertise from the CYBER team members makes this possible – along with having top-of-the-line 3D printers sophisticated enough to take 3D models of the patient’s lower limb and craft an accurate AFO that conforms as needed to the orthosis.
It is thought that the military will be the first to benefit from this partnership. One of the first organizations to receive the benefits of this process will be the Veterans Administration hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Once testing is complete, the system will be deployed to other VA organizations in the system – which could wind up saving Medicare $1.3 billion per year by 2020.