Developers at the University of Michigan College of Engineering have found a new way to design and 3D-print custom orthotics and prosthetics. The process provides lighter, better-fitting assistive devices to amputees, stroke patients, and individuals with cerebral palsy.
The U-M engineers and clinicians who designed the new cyber manufacturing system say that shortening the fabrication time for custom orthotics could make the process easier on custom assistive device users, who today must wait days or weeks to receive essential orthotics and prosthetics.
Currently, the U-M team focuses on ankle foot orthosis, which are often prescribed to stroke patients to help them regain their ability to walk.
The new technique begins with a three-dimensional optical scan of the patient. The orthotist then uploads the scan data to a cloud-based design center and uses specially developed software to design the assistive device. Next, the software creates a set of electronic instructions and transmits them back to the orthotist's facility, where an onsite 3-D printer produces the actual device in a few hours.
"Eventually we envision that a patient could come in in the morning for an optical scan, and the clinician could design a high quality orthosis very quickly using the cloud-based software," said Albert Shih, U-M professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering and the lead on the project. "By that afternoon, they could have a 3-D printed device that's ready for final evaluation and use."