With the diverse health problems that are prevalent in developing countries, the number of amputations being conducted every year is constantly on a rise. At the Tri-County Orthotic Prosthetic Institute, we believe that health problems such as diabetes, gangrene, malnutrition, and others create compromising situations, and an amputation could easily become a necessity. However, the cost of prosthesis is quite high and often a large number of amputees are not able to afford one. A collaboration between the Dutch Waag Society and the Indonesian HONF or House of Natural Fiber are making revolutionary findings in creating a low cost prosthetic that is affordable as well as functional.

3D printing and prosthesis

3D printing is a technology that allows for the creation of rapid 3D prototypes of any object in a matter of hours as opposed to the conventional manufacturing process. It makes use of some specialized plastics and powders in order to create the prototype. It is a common feature in the design industry where designers prepare prototypes of models for examination. The specialty of this technology is that you can create any part instantly, irrespective of the shape and size of the object. The Waag and HONF collaboration is working with 3D printers and cheap, locally available materials to create prosthesis for amputees. Using this technology, prosthetic parts can be made available for as low as $50. The most promising part of this venture is that these parts can be made any where in the world, with access to only a 3D design and a 3D printer.

Materials used

The objective of low cost prosthesis is to build prosthetic parts using cost effective components that can be easily replaced. Some of the materials that are used in building these parts include naturally available bamboo fiber and 3D molds. These components not only make the prosthesis lightweight and flexible, but also easily replaceable. The ability to easily replace the prosthesis is one of the highlights of this program, as any increase in body volume can be easily compensated by simply replacing the existing prosthesis, or modifying it slightly to accommodate the change. It is a crucial feature, especially in the case of child amputees, as their bodies grow at a much faster rate compared to fully-grown adults.

The project, still in its developmental phase, has certainly opened new doorways to obtaining reliable and cost effective prosthesis to people all over the world. The ability to generate parts as per the specifications of an individual enables creation of more comfortable prosthesis for the amputees. The ease of technology transfer means that the moment the technology is ready for the public, it can be accessed easily from any Tri-County Orthotic Prosthetic Institute or any other reputed prosthetic institute with access to internet, computers, and 3D printers, making this a truly remarkable break through as far as prosthetics are concerned.