3D printing and orthotics: an introduction

June 22, 2021
4 min

We’ve all heard about 3D printing, but what is 3D printing exactly? This article is part of a series exploring 3D printing in orthotics. In this first article, we start by introducing what 3D printing is all about and its benefits.

3D printing (also known as additive manufacturing) is a process of joining materials to make objects from 3D model data, usually layer upon layer, as opposed to subtractive manufacturing methodologies. Additive manufacturing is a general term including machines using different processes such as:

  • Selective laser-sintering (SLS): Selectively fusing powdered polymer-based materials with a laser in successive 0.1mm layers;
  • Stereolithography apparatus (SLA): Curing photopolymer resin by directing a helium-cadmium or argon laser with a scanning mirror on numeric coordinates;
  • Fused deposition modelling (FDM): Extruding heated plastic filaments in single paths to form each layer of the object.

Compared with conventional manufacturing, 3D printing has several benefits in various aspects of product development and building:

  • Design complexity: Freedom of the design and geometry, no direct link exists between complexity and cost of the part; 
  • One-piece building: Part can be made in one-piece, leading to a stronger and lightweight part; 
  • Accuracy: Less than 1mm; 
  • Computational testing: Digital testing to study deformation, pressure points and stiffness. 
  • Ecology: Minimizes waste; 
  • Speed: The full process of 3D printing is faster, and benefits increase with higher complexity of the design; 
  • Programming: Easier to program sequence for machines and incorrect programming does not risk the integrity of the machine. 

In view of these benefits, 3D printing is perfect to make well-designed, visually appealing and lightweight bespoke products with no extra cost. 

But there are still some questions left unanswered:  

  • Is 3D printing advanced enough for the orthotics field? 
  • How do 3D printed orthotics compare to traditional ones? 

3D printing in the orthotics field is based on human body digitization, which is becoming increasingly popular in the field. However, mass-customized orthotics using 3D printing will only be worthy if new orthotics can offer high performance, value for money, and a good service model.  

Fabricating these high-quality products is simple when you have a high-quality digital 3D mold to start with. This reliable 3D file is often the missing link that causes headaches to clinicians and C-Fabs. That’s where TechMed 3D helped more than 4000 users in more than 55 countries worldwide. 

If you want to make TechMed your secret ingredient to a successful clinic or C-Fab business model, just start with a talk. Our team can discuss your challenges and big ideas so we can tailor a solution that fits your own needs. 

Keep an eye out for part 2 of our article series, where we will be exploring the scientific advancements on 3D printed orthotics.


References

Saleh J. & Dalgarno K. (200() Cost and benefit analysis of fused deposition modelling (FDM) technique and selective laser sintering (SLS) for fabrication of customised foot orthoses. In Proc. 4th Int. Conf. Adv. Res. Virtual Rapid Manuf., Innovative Dev. Des. Manuf., Leiria, Portugal.

Hopkinson N., Hague R., Dickens P. (2005) Rapid Manufacturing: An Industrial Revolution for the Digital Age, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, West Sussex.

Gibson I., Rosen D., Stucker B. (2015) Additive Manufacturing Technologies: 3D Printing, Rapid Prototyping, and Direct Digital Manufacturing. Second Edition. New York, NY: Springer.

Pallari J.H.P., Dalgarno K.W., Woodburn J. (2010) Mass customization of foot orthoses for rheumatoid arthritis using selective laser sintering. IEEE Trans Biomed Eng. 57(7):1750–1756

(Old) Image from: Spooner S.K . (2016) 3D Orthotic Printing: Fad Or Game Changer? Podiatric Today. 29(12):30-37

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