3-D Printing Revolutionizing Prosthetic Technology

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A printer that can print a 3-D model of anything is a mind blowing technology that is very much a reality now. Although at present its use is quite limited, with the passage of time we are witnessing its horizons being broadened by new research, development of new methods and advancement in technology.

3-D printing is the process of manufacturing something directly using only a computer, a software and a 3-D printer. The printing process occurs in layers. The printer keeps on adding layer upon layer to the model under construction until the entire model is constructed. Depending on the material used for printing and available time, the layers laid can be either thick or thin.

This technology can be employed in almost any industry. It has a wide range of applications and human health and well-being is no exception. 3-D printing has been recently found to be of great value to prosthetics. Prosthetic limbs have undergone a lot of transformation through the ages. From wooden and metallic limbs which could not move to modern prosthetic limbs which can be moved electronically, converting muscle movement into electric signals, prosthetic technology has come a long way.

There are millions of people in the world suffering from limb loss. Accidents and diseases are the major reasons behind it. It is a life changing experience, one that can lead to lifelong suffering. Although artificial limbs are available, they are expensive and have a variety of other problems. They may not fit properly and result in pain and discomfort. In case of children who are rapidly growing, the artificial limbs need to be changed often which is a huge strain on a family’s finances. And since prosthetic limbs are tailor-made according to every user’s needs, the process of getting a limb may take a long time.

With 3-D printed prosthetic limbs, many of these problems can be reduced. As 3-D printers become cheaper by the day, and the technology of 3-D printed prosthetics becoming easier, that day is not far when people would be able to simply click ‘print’ and have their prosthetic limb ready in no time, at home, costing only a fraction of what it costs today. Sometimes people have to travel to far away locations just to get a prosthetic limb. With 3-D printing, this would not be required either.

3-D printers are slowly being developed to make use of different materials. Sometimes different materials are used together in order to build a prosthetic layer by layer with different material for joints and other areas as required. This will make it look and feel more realistic. Body modeling and scanning technology enable to create a prosthetic exactly according to the user’s body. It not only helps aesthetically, it also fits better.

Advancement in technology will bring more comfort and convenience to users. It will make prosthetic limbs look and feel more and more like one’s natural limbs. Controlling these artificial limbs will become smoother and more natural. With technological advancements in this field, amputees will finally have a chance to live a more natural life.

Only recently, news of the 21-year-old Easton LaChappelle teaming up with Microsoft to make a 3-D printed robotic prosthetic arm is making waves everywhere. Trying to help a 9-year-old with a prosthetic arm, LaChappelle has engineered a 3-D printed arm that looks and feels like a natural hand down to the touch of the skin. This prosthetic arm is not expensive and is a ray of light for all those suffering from limb loss, living with uncomfortable and often times painful artificial limbs and paying heavily for it.

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