If you follow me on social media, you may have noticed that, in addition to the 3DPOD, I participate in another podcast series, The Prosthetics and Orthotics Podcast, with Brent Wright, a Certified Orthotist and Prosthetist (CP BOC/O). Additive manufacturing (AM) and the world of prosthetics and orthotics seem to be on a collision course. Could this lead to better care? More functional prosthetics? Or is it just a passing trend? Join us on our journey, so that we can explore this together. You can find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Buzzsprout. You can also sign up for the RSS feed here.
Having worked in the field for over 20 years, Brent is probably the most experienced person worldwide in 3D printing for prosthetics. He’s adopted technologies, materials, software, procedures and inventions in advance of everyone most of the rest of the field. He’s also helped a lot of other people adopt 3D printing for prosthetics, as well. In addition to working at EastPoint Prosthetics and Orthotics, Brent runs LifeEnabled, a charity that brings prosthetics to underserved communities. He relies on AM to make prosthetics affordable and functional, particularly in a part of rural Guatemala that he has been giving care to for many years. He is now working to train and provide equipment to locals, so they can extend prosthetics treatment locally. You can donate to LifeEnabled to aid in the development of 3D printed prosthetics: $150 means the donation of a below-the-knee prosthesis, while $50 can buy the materials and labor for a prosthetic foot for $50. Please do so, I’ve donated and I can’t remember when anything made me quite this happy.
Currently we have over 33 episodes, where we talk to patients, researchers, clinicians and inventors to see what is happening in orthotics, prosthetics, and digitization. Below you can listen to the first episode, in which we discuss the rationale for doing the podcast, as well as the digitization of prosthetics.
The world of prosthetics and orthotics has been a remarkably artisanal one until recently. Traditionally, many prostheses were made of wood, and by hand to boot. Individual prosthetists or small firms prided themselves on skills honed over decades. Personal service and a holistic, long-term and caring relationship with patients were the norm. All of this is changing, however.
More and more components are being pre-made for these devices. CNC milling and 3D printing are revolutionizing how prosthetics are being made. Wood is being replaced by filled polymers and carbon fiber. Molds and mold making are now important aspects of the industry. Robotics and electronics are becoming increasingly present in devices. Larger firms are disrupting manufacturing and retail. Insurers are making their presence felt, as well.
Probably the biggest trend in prosthetics is digitization. 3D scanning, CAD and other software, and 3D printers are making a big difference in both the market for orthoses and prosthetics. Check sockets are being 3D printed, as are prototypes, insoles, and inserts. Where does it all end? Will 3D printing fundamentally change the making of orthoses and prosthetics? Or will there be a few changes on the back end, but few that will be noticeable for patients? Will 3D printing impact only lower limb prosthetics, but do nothing for others? Will 3D printing be adopted by some, but avoided by others? These are all things that we do not know, but which Brent and I explore in our podcast.