June 18, 2014

An EU-funded project, A-FOOTPRINT has developed a way to quickly make customised corrective foot and ankle supports using 3D printers.

It is estimated that about 200 million Europeans suffer from disabling foot and ankle conditions. Europe's health services spend over €300 million each year treating many of these patients with foot supports, typically worn inside the shoes or as splints.

Traditionally supports, known as orthoses can be mass-produced but they can not be easily adjusted to each patient for the most effective treatment. Meanwhile, custom-made foot supports work more effectively, but they can be expensive and the whole design and producing process can take anywhere up to six weeks.

A-FOOTPRINT is a £3m EU-funded joint research and innovation initiative led by Glasgow Caledonian University, with the objective to develop low cost foot and ankle foot orthoses specifically tailored for patients' own impairments.

Researchers studied the gaits of healthy adults and patients with a range of foot and ankle disabilities. They combined these data with real-time imaging of foot motion to develop the most accurate model of foot-dynamics.

Using the model, podiatrists assessing a patient can place skin-markers on anatomically significant points of the patient's foot. The foot is then scanned in 3D, replacing the need for plaster of Paris or foam impression casts.

The motion of these points, combined with analysis of pressure points on the sole of the foot, is stored by the project's information system. The project's software (POD-CAD) then uses these data and clinical information about the patient to design a custom support.

The foot support is then created using 3D printing. Compared to the current two-week turnaround to provide a shoe insert or splint, the A-FOOTPRINT process could take just one day, says Project coordinator professor Jim Woodburn of Glasgow Caledonian University.

The large European market for braces and supports is growing at 6% annually, and A-FOOTPRINT currently has no competitors for the type of products it can offer, says Woodburn.

"The Glasgow/Maastricht foot is a game changer. It opens the door to a huge range of applications, including the manufacture of better and more efficient orthotics, resulting in quicker recovery times, reduced symptoms and improved functional ability for those suffering from conditions which afflict the foot and lower leg." Woodburn adds.

Posted in 3D Printing Applications

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