One of the biggest barriers to the use of prosthetic limb of any kind are the associated costs. The average useful life of most of the prosthetic devices is between 3 to 5 years. The added lifetime cost of the prosthetic utilization is upwards to several folds in the range of $100,000 upwards, depending on the needs of the patient. In case of children, costs could escalate further, as the need changes every year with their growth. In addition, these costs are significantly prohibitive in resource-poor communities worldwide. 3D printing stands to eliminate or greatly reduce costs is in the cost of care from a medical professional. With the use of additive manufacturing technologies, the cost savings in device applications like prosthetics is significant. The real disruption comes from the reduction in the traditional manufacturing of patient care chain.
This is generally being observed in compassionate use instances associated with transradial prosthetic hands which have popularized thanks primarily to organizations such as e-Nable and meeting the needs of child amputees. In prosthetics, 3D printing has already shown a potential for the development of many projects for manufacturing upper limb prosthetic devices. The 3D printed/manufactured device has improved functionality with fully movable fingers and with the advancement of technologies in additive manufacturing, the durability and the long-term function of these prosthetic devices can be improved
3D printing stands to eliminate or greatly reduce costs of care from a medical professional. This has resulted in the significant interest in the exploration of 3D printing technology in prosthetic devices. An additive manufactured prosthetic can be fabricated quite effectively reducing the costs. The overall cost reduction benefit can be passed on to the patients, by using a digital controlled manufacturing process bypassing the traditional supply chain, the lowered costs are primarily due to a decrease in the manual labour and the cost of the material.
Although, there is a need for a technician who is familiar with the 3D printing process to assemble and engage the prosthetic device. But the expertise levels could be reduced considerably as compared to manual fabrication of the prosthetic devices.
The other area in which additive manufacturing stands to gain is by greatly reducing the costs of care from a health care provider. The lower hospital or longer time stay and the relative ease of using a 3D printed prosthetic device help the patient to be mobilized quite early.
In case of the upper limb prosthetic devices, the longevity, aesthetic quality, and reliability of a printed device may not meet the same performance of a regular customized prosthetic device manufactured traditionally, when comparing the lifetime costs the value proposition of printed devices remains quite strong. The compassionate use instances associated with trans radial prosthetic hands has also lowered the long-time cost of the upper limb devices’. Also, in case of the lower extremity prosthetics, 3D printing is applied differently mostly because of the load-bearing requirement of such products.
For the present, the use of 3D printing technology and its impact is either niche based as in the custom prosthetic manufacturing of upper limb prosthetic devices, or largely disruptive but, there are still significant barriers before it can have widespread applications.Tweet to @thirdmesh
National Institute of Standards and technology
Smartech Market publishing:3D-PRINTED MEDICAL PROSTHETICS MARKETS