Mar. 10, 2015 | By Simon

It’s no secret that among the current real-world applications where 3D printed has revolutionized manufacturing is in the prosthetics industry. Between the efforts being done by those at e-NABLE to an increasing amount of medical professionals who are putting a 3D printer in their own offices, additive manufacturing has not only dramatically changed how prosthetics are made, but also how much they cost. Among other organizations that are using 3D printing to help those in need of low-cost prosthetics is Refugee Open Ware.   

With a mission centered around “employing disruptive technology to improve human rights fulfillment for both refugees and host communities in conflict zones,” Refugee Open Ware - or ROW uses tools such as 3D printers, laser cutters and 3D scanners to produce low-cost and readily-accessible prosthetic devices.

"I responded to a three-month contract that was advertised through the 'fab lab' foundation community in Derry and Belfast, which is part of a global network," said Tony Canning, who moved to Jordan in February to work for ROW.

Currently, the 38-year old Canning is working with ROW in the Jordanian capital Amman to design and manufacture prosthetic upper limbs using 3D printing techniques that he learned back home in Northern Ireland.    

In total, almost 200,000 Syrians have been killed due to the escalating conflict between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and those who oppose him and more than nine million Syrians have been forced to evacuate their homes and neighborhoods.

ROW uses their tools to make prosthetics for victims of the conflict in less than 36 hours.  While an estimated 30 million people worldwide are in need of a prosthetic hand, arm or leg, many are unable to afford or gain access to a facility that can produce them with skill and care.     

To create the 3D printed prosthetics, Canning and the rest of the ROW team use a 3D monitoring program to do designs which then can be put onto an SD card or sent electronically to a 3D printer. 3D scanning, 3D modeling and 3D printing allow them to customize a prosthetic design to fit the intended recipient.

“Medical prosthetics are $30,000 (£20,000) and upwards," Canning told us. "For passive prosthetics the cost is more like $3,000 - this is the area we are targeting with our non-bionic mechanical prosthetics. From early estimates, we can expect our bionic development to remain startlingly low cost as compared with the $30,000 mentioned - in the region of $100-$200."

Further, Canning says that there are also many who have been injured in non-conflict zones - such as those who have suffered from burns or household accidents - that come to the fab lab to get fitted with a prosthetic.  While the prosthetics are clearly much cheaper than those that can cost upwards of $3,000, they still cost money to produce.  To ensure that they can produce the prosthetics with little-to-no-cost to the refugees, ROW strictly relies on donations.  

"We specialise in upper limb prosthetics but transforming lives is a slow process and we are under no illusions that we are not a production line,” added Canning.  

"I wouldn't say I'm holding back the tears but my heart does melt every day."

ROW plans to develop 2 FabLabs; one in Amman and one in the Za'atari refugee camp over the next 12 months.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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