Jul 7, 2016 | By Alec

3D printers are increasingly finding their way to academic hospitals, for the production of fantastic surgical models that can be used to prep for operations before patients are actually on the table. But as Spanish startup Xkelet reminds us, 3D printers are also perfect tools for guiding the healing process. They have developed the Xkelet orthosis, which can replace the stinking, uncomfortable and itchy casts used to heal broken bones. Made from iPad 3D scans, they are lightweight, custom-made and comfortable, and can be worn in the shower for optimal hygiene. This fantastic concept has also gained recognition from the international design community, having just won a Red Dot award in Germany.

The Red Dot award, of course, is one of the most respected design competitions in the world. Organized by Zentrum Nordrhein Westfalen, it’s been around since the 1950s and is known for giving a ‘stamp of approval’ to very promising innovative products. As a result, more than 17,000 designers seek a Red Dot award every year.

This makes it even more remarkable that Xkelet caught their attention, especially as their product isn’t ready yet. This new orthotics concept has been developed by Girona, Spain-based Jordi Tura and Ricardo Veiga, and their startup currently also includes Roberto Sancho and Daniel Oliver. As they revealed, it grew out of a frustration with outdated bone healing procedures. When Tura broke his left leg, he had to endure the lengthy discomfort associated with plaster casts. It becomes very difficult to take a shower, while the cast is uncomfortable, itchy and smelly. “And when you remove the plaster you find you've lost all muscle tone and need to start a slow and costly recovery,” they said.

In an attempt to change all that, they began looking for ways to improve comfort, functionality and hygiene through 3D printing. Fortunately, the entrepreneurs had plenty of experience with industrial design and over the past four years they came up with a fascinating product, partially made possible through backing by the PUSH 2015 acceleration program.

In a nutshell, the Xkelet is a custom-fitting orthosis that immobilizes injured bones, replacing the casts of old. To ensure a perfect fit, the Spanish entrepreneurs developed the XKSS-Xkelet 3D scanning app, which can run on an iPad and scan the affected limb. The gathered data is used to form a 3D model, which can be sent to 3D printing services online. What’s more, that data can also be stored by healthcare providers, giving them access to information on how the limb is healing. Once 3D printed, the Xkelet is easily attached and provides the wearer with comfort, mobility and hygiene. It’s no wonder that the Red Dot jury was impressed. “The Xkelet translates cutting-edge technology into an unusual orthosis design that hardly restricts the user and looks fashionable,” they said.

Of course this is not the only custom-made 3D printed cast that relies on 3D scans; the Osteoid Medical cast relies on the same principles, and was first pioneered two years ago. But the Xkelet stands out for its scalability and the reliance on an iPad app. Where most other concepts rely on costly 3D scanning equipment – a serious hurdle for commercialization – the app takes care of all of that. The iPad is simply rotated around the limb in question for about 15 seconds to gather all the necessary data. 3D printable models can thus be realized relatively quickly.

Only 3D printing itself obviously takes a bit longer. The Xkelet casts are 3D printed using a SLS 3D printer in the completely waterproof and hypoallergenic PA2200 plastic, which has a ISO10993-1 certification for being biocompatible. “We can’t yet tell you which 3D printers we use, but we can say they’re not cheap,” they tell us. 3D printing takes about eight hours right now, but they hope to considerably cut down production times in the near future. Right now, the patient would only have to wait four days to receive their custom cast. They are also lightweight, with a wrist cast weighing less than 100 grams.

What’s more, the Xkelet also stands out from others for its scalability and adaptability. The same principles can be applied to just about every part of the body, and a large variety of locking systems and customized mesh openings can be integrated into the design – accommodating a variety of treatment procedures. Of course there are also plenty of color options.

But it took a long time to get to this point, having taken four years to develop. “In truth we’ve looked at so many software versions, I could not tell you. We used Maya, Rhino, Solid Works, Fusion, and a lot more,” they say to 3ders.org. Finding the right materials and scanning solutions were also big challenges. But the prospects are good. Their software is almost completed and the Spanish entrepreneurs are working together with doctors to verify their products. So far, the feedback is great. While their agenda is still shrouded in mystery, more can be expected in a few months from now. We can’t wait for the plaster cast to become a relic of the past.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Lisa wrote at 10/20/2016 1:53:31 AM:

How do I get one of these?

Paul Dutch wrote at 9/9/2016 12:08:49 AM:

Excellent. 8 hours to print. I can't see this being used in ED at the moment. If only CLIP tech was cheaper..

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