Cost Estimate of Various Prosthetic Devices Using 3D printing Technology


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.



National Institute of Standards and technology



3D Printers And Applications in Health care in Resource Poor Countries: Bridging The Digital Divide

As Danish physicist Niels Bohr stated, “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.” 3D printing has created a new revolution and there is a widespread belief that it is the next industrial revolution. This shift is considerable in many industries ranging from aerospace to automotive, but in the world of healthcare, the paradigm shift is not yet significant. It is quite early to predict the benefits of additive manufacturing in development of healthcare applications with benefit to resource-poor countries.

Advisory Commission on Consumer Protection and Quality in the Health Care Industry, noted that characteristics of the evolving health system—such as an eroding safety net—can interact with personal characteristics to contribute to increased vulnerability.”


Ventures in developing countries do not necessarily have the incentive to adopt new technologies to increase their cost-effectiveness because they are often protected from domestic or foreign competition. Although, it has created a new system of manufacturing wherein there is the integration of design and rapid prototyping and development of objects. Yet some of the real-time application benefits are farfetched. The reason is that healthcare delivery is prohibitive in developed countries but more so in resource-poor countries. The supply chain in the healthcare industry is deeply entrenched in the current process of manufacturing which is not very cost effective. But, additive technologies ventures enable the novice to professionals to quickly transform their ideas into products at the rapid pace with lower cost.

Wright published an article in the Journal of Aeronautical Science, he proposed that the number of labor hours required for building an airplane declined predictably as a function of the cumulative number of units produced because of the increases in skill and efficiency that came from experience and practice. This has been followed extensively in the world of manufacturing in the last couple of decades. The same concept could also be applied to the world of additive manufacturing today.

Not only can additive manufacturing in medicine help to build custom tools and equipment for patients like medical devices, but also that require prostheses, it can make the actual prosthetic device much more comfortable and cost-effective. This can offer significant benefits in communities around the world which are resource poor in terms of affordability. The key step is to create a supportive ecosystem for additive manufacturing by bringing together academic institutions, the non-profit organization, healthcare industries and entrepreneurs developing new innovative technologies.

The emerging Countries should develop their own additive manufacturing facilities, while also keeping in mind that these may time longer time to bear the desired fruit. Harnessing opportunities thus require policies that lower the barriers to competition and market entry, in addition to investments in infrastructure and skills. Only then will firms use new digital technologies more intensively and effectively—and only then will countries avoid falling behind and avoid the digital divide.


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  2. Chang, Betty L. et al. “Bridging the Digital Divide: Reaching Vulnerable Populations.” Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association: JAMIA 11.6 (2004): 448–457. PMC. Web. 2 Dec. 2017.
  3. World Bank. 2016. World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends. Washington, DC: World Bank. doi:10.1596/978-1-4648-0671-1. License: Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 3.0 IGO