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New 3D-printed hand set to change prosthetics

By James Walker     Nov 20, 2014 in Technology
A company based in Bristol, UK, has combined 3D scanning and 3D printing techniques to produce a revolutionary new prosthetic hand that could transform available solutions for amputees with improved-quality, lower-cost functionality.
The manufacturer, Open Bionics, says that this is the first time that the technique has been utilised and that it is of particular interest to children with amputations. In a process that takes several days to complete, a scanner connected to a tablet computer takes measurements from multiple points on the amputated limb. These dimensions are then sent to a 3D printer that produces the hand.
The 3D printer gradually builds the arm, layering up beads of material and letting them set. The system is controlled by a series of 12V linear actuators that allow for horizontal movement and make the construction mechanism much more precise than the traditional ways of creating prosthetics: plaster moulds and meticulous manual planning and building.
The team behind the project hopes to modify the current result in the coming months to be sleeker, lighter and generally improved. This is important as a primary audience for the product is children whose families often find the cost of prosthetic arms unsustainable.
A traditionally built arm can cost between £10,000 and £70,000, but as children grow so quickly a new limb can be required every 12 months. The cost soon mounts up, but the new 3D printed hand will be able to retail from around £1,200 — a very significant reduction.
Roboticist Joel Gibbard, working on the product, said of the issues with current prosthetics for children: "At the moment children are under-served by the prosthetics industry in terms of robotic hands. This project can really help them as ideally they need a new prosthetic every year and that is where the cost component really helps out."
This solution looks set to become more commonplace in the future then after it has been refined and developed some more to be lighter and more flexible. It highlights the advantages of the increasingly often utilised 3D printing technologies well and shows how such methods can greatly enhance existing manufacturing procedures, creating better products at a fraction of the cost from before.
More about 3d, Printing, Scanning, Prosthetic, Arm
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