May 8, 2015 | By Simon

It’s no secret that among the many possibilities that additive manufacturing offers is the ability to produce low cost and customized 3D printed prosthetics - oftentimes with futuristic aesthetics that would otherwise be impossible to produce using traditional manufacturing techniques.  

Whether the prosthetics are for our four-legged friends, war veterans or children who were born with deformities, the use of 3D printing to help others have full functionality of their limbs has been one of the premiere feel-good stories that has come out of 3D printing since it hit the mainstream within the past few years.  

Now, a group of design and architecture students have taken that “customization factor” a step further and have been busy developing 3D printed prosthetic skins that allow a prosthesis wearer to instantly change the aesthetic of their prosthetic without the need to have multiple prosthetic devices.

The 27 second-year students, who are all a part of the Interior Architecture and Product Design (IAPD) program at Kansas State University, were tasked with designing and manufacturing six prosthetic skins for six chosen individuals who currently wear a prosthetic device. 

According to Dustin Headley, associate professor and facilitator of the IAPD studio, the skins will be the first of their kind and are 3D printed on flexible resin - a production method that can dramatically lower the price similar to how 3D printing revolutionized the manufacturing of prosthetics themselves.  While existing prosthetic skins can cost around $1000, the students are planning on printing all six of the unique skin designs with the silicone-like flexible resin for less than that.   

3D printed flexible resin  

“Prosthetic skin in general is not a new thing, but it is a very costly thing,” added Headley on the school’s blog.  

The choice to create skins - rather than the prosthetics themselves - for the project is an interesting one considering the popularity of 3D printed prosthetics at the moment.  

The assignment to design the skins was in fact an extension of a human empathy project that the students had worked on earlier in the semester.  Among other things, the students spent a large part of the project simulating the loss of mobility, sight and hearing loss as a way of gaining empathy for humans who deal with these situations on a day-to-day basis.  

3D printed flexible resin

“It really is an immersive experience where the students are not only being educated on some technical issues involved in making 3D printing and digital modeling, but also the result of that is not just an academic exercise. But it is something that is actually given and is manufactured and we give it to the participants,” added Headley.

The project was so inspiring that student Hana Robinson has come to realize just how much of an impact she can have on people’s lives upon graduating.  

“Now as designers, we have the capability to change someone else’s world,” she said.

Among other things, Robinson hopes that she’ll be able to help her swim coach’s son, who has muscular dystrophy, to be able to one day swim.   

“That little boy is incapable of swimming, and he just wants to be like his dad,” she added.

“I want to design a product that would enable him to do that, and I think this project helps me realize I can.”


Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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