The progressive prosthesis manufacturer Partial Hand Solutions (PHS) has used Formlabs’ new Form 1 3D printer to optimize the manufacturing process for artificial limbs.
Instead of outsourcing the production of its pediatric M-finger and elbow implants to an injection molding company, PHS is now using Form 1 to manufacture patient-specific prostheses in-house. By switching to the recently introduced system from Formlabs, the company has succeeded in 3D printing more durable nylon parts cost-effectively while reducing lead times from two weeks to just a few days.
“Waiting two days for a full printer platform blew the weeks of waiting for my molded parts to arrive,” said Matthew Mikosz, founder of Partial Hand Solutions. “Using fuse 1 has broadened my horizons. Now I am thinking about how I can improve my work and get better patient outcomes. “
With the new 3D printer setup from Partial Hand Solutions (illustration), patient-specific prostheses could be produced for the first time. Photo about partial hand solutions.
SLS problem by partial hand
Since 2007, PHS has been working to push the boundaries of amputee technology and develop prostheses with new functions for people with partial hand amputations. Given that many of the company’s customers are either active soldiers or children with serious injuries, prompt delivery of custom-made implants is critical to the company.
However, by outsourcing production, PHS has so far only been able to offer its products in five set sizes, without considering patient needs or maximizing potential mobility. In addition, the company previously tried SLA, FDM, and injection molding processes, but found affordable patient-specific products to be out of reach.
In particular, the company saw potential in SLS 3D-printed nylon parts, but according to Mikosz, their up-front costs meant they weren’t achievable until Fuse 1. “I’ve always wanted an SLS printer, but they’re not available at their current price,” said Mikosz. “Fuse 1 is perfect for small businesses.”
With the Fuse 1 3D printer, Partial Hand Solutions was able to produce around 160 fingers in two days (see illustration). Photo about partial hand solutions.
Optimized prosthetic production
By jointly taking over Fuse 1 and Fuse Sift, his company was able to establish a new, more efficient production workflow, according to Mikosz. For example, by using Formlabs machines to make the controllable ‘M-Finger’ prosthesis, PHS was able to achieve a low powder update rate and reduce the total cost per part.
By packing the system’s build area, Mikosz claims he could print 160 fingers in just two days. By reducing the spacing of moving parts, he was also able to create functional connections with little post-processing that other techniques cannot do without adding time-consuming steps.
Additionally, the additive digit of PHS previously required the use of a carbon fiber bushing to connect to a patient’s body. With Fuse 1, the company can now make the prostheses from polymers instead, making them more affordable and customizable than before, without compromising the final surface quality.
“I am impressed with the ability to print working joints. I will never have to outsource these parts again. ”
As a final demonstration of the Fuse 1 capabilities, PHS 3D printed a prosthetic elbow for a ten year old patient. Traditionally, pediatric amputees have been forced to use normal, adult-sized artificial limbs, which can prove heavy for children as they grow into them. With the new 3D printer, however, the company was able to produce a much lighter nylon-based alternative.
On the production side, Mikosz found that the shoulder was even easier to print and clean than the fingers because of its size, the lack of crevices, and the reduced amount of leftover powder. Although he did not reveal exactly how long the print took, Mikosz added that it was longer than before, but “reasonable given its size”.
While PHS was essentially a beta user before launch, the case study at least shows the effectiveness of Fuse 1 in improving access to industrial SLS. In the long term, however, it remains to be seen how the new Formlabs machine will hold up against the other established names in the industry in the desktop SLS arena.
3D printed children’s prosthetics
While 3D printing artificial limbs is a noble thing for kids, it is by no means a novel thing, and a number of charities and companies have created their own in recent years.
Ambionics’ 3D-printed artificial arms, specially developed for youth use, were included in the first trials as early as 2017. With a Stratasys 3D printer, the prosthesis is powered by hydraulics rather than electric gears and motors, which can be dangerous for children.
On a more experimental basis, researchers at the University of Lincoln in the UK have 3D printed a sensor-controlled artificial arm. The prototype prosthesis has been specially designed as a lightweight alternative artificial limb tailored to the needs of children under two years of age.
Elsewhere, the charity Syria Relief has asked the UK Government’s Department for International Development for funding for 3D printed prostheses. According to the doctors working as part of the Syrian relief effort, the implants could be manufactured faster and more cheaply using additive technologies.
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The picture shown shows one of the newly 3D-printed prosthetic cups from Partial Hand Solutions. Photo about partial hand solutions.