In certain parts of the world, losing limbs and succumbing to severe injuries is a painful part of everyday life. This is where a team of German researchers from the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg and Fachhochschule Lübeck are hoping to make a difference all with the help of 3D scanning and 3D printing technologies.
The research team, led by Dr. Christian Zagel, from the Chair of Services, Intelligence, and Processes at FAU, is developing a process for creating affordable and custom fitted 3D printed prosthetics that they hope will soon be accessible to remote and war torn parts of the world.
The project, called 3DPro, has been recognized as one of Germany’s 100 “Landmark in the Land of Ideas” projects.
The project began with Dr. Zagel, who conceived of a 3D body scanning system that could be used for a wide range of purposes, including virtually trying on clothes, and most relevantly, for the creation of custom prosthetics. As one can imagine, an ill-fitting prosthetic is not an ideal solution to a limb loss and can even cause further injury such as bruising, inflammation and increased pain.
To develop the 3D scanning system, Dr. Zagel has teamed up with a number of colleagues, such as Dr. Günther Greiner and Prof. Dr. Marc Stamminger, who are working on the development of components for scanning an injured limb.
The individuals in charge of making the 3D scanning interface as user-friendly and intuitive as possible are Prof. Dr. Monique Janneck and Adelka Niels from the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Applied Sciences in Lübeck.
“We want to make sure that local doctors can work with the system and that they do not need special cameras or expensive 3D printers, trained engineers or orthopedic specialists,” said Dr. Zagel. For the production aspect of the prosthetics, the research team has envisioned manufacturing the prosthetic limbs on standard relatively low-cost 3D printers using filaments made from recycled plastic, such as from plastic cups.
The plastic prosthetic stem, which comes into contact with the patient’s limb, will also be lined with a soft silicone material for optimal comfort.
The German research team has already completed its first prototypes for 3D printed custom prosthetics and they are currently testing a variety of materials to determine which ones are best suited in terms of durability and strength.
The software for the 3D body scanning process is also still in development, though the researchers are confident they will be able to produce their first prosthetics for patients as early as 2017. As the project moves along, the research team is also exploring its funding options for the future and is looking into extending the project to other prosthetic and orthotic devices.
Since its launch in January 2015, the 3DPro project has been supported by the “Sulzbach-Rosenberg hilft!”, a volunteer organization for refugee assistance and integration, and the Staedtler Foundation.