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Affordable and Accessible Prosthetics for People in Areas of Conflict Thanks to 3D Printing

Researchers at the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) and Fachhochschule Lübeck have collaborated on a project to develop a simple and inexpensive process to create prosthetics for people in crisis zones such as mine victims.

Initiated by Dr. Christian Zagel from the Chair of Services, Intelligence and Processes at FAU, the 3DPro project aims at creating a 3D scanning process and software that can be operated by doctors and others without technical knowledge on site. 3D images taken with devices as simple as a smartphone camera will ensure the prothesis fits exactly to the patient’s anatomy. Especially the socket of a prothesis must be tailored to the wearer’s limb, so bruising, pain and inflammation can be avoided. Once a 3D file has been created it will be 3D printed from recycled plastics. The socket will additionally be lined with soft silicone to optimise the comfort.

“We want to make sure that local doctors can work with the system and that they do not need special cameras or expensive 3D printers, trained engineers or orthopaedic specialists,” Christian Zagel explains.

While the development of the software is still in progress, researchers are testing different materials for longevity and stress resistance. Additionally, funding methods for the 3DPro project are currently being explored. Following test runs of 3D scanning and 3D printing, the team plans to be able to produce the first prosthetics by 2017.

The project has recently been selected as a “Landmark in the Land of Ideas” by the “Germany – Land of Ideas” competition jury.