Dec 12, 2018 | By Cameron

3D printing has done so much for disabled people by providing affordable prosthetics and assistive devices to adults and children alike; even the hearing impaired will benefit from additive manufacturing. Physically impaired individuals are also able to use 3D printing to make objects that they couldn’t otherwise fashion with their own hands. Now, the millions of people afflicted with arthritis can take advantage of the technology by replacing their expensive assistive devices with 3D printed versions that are cheaper and more customizable.

Joshua Pearce is a Richard Witte Endowed Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Michigan Tech and he provides a near constant stream of 3D printing research and breakthroughs for us journalists. He’s at it again, this time tasking his students to design and 3D print assistive devices to aid those with arthritis. Such devices usually offer larger grips that minimize the need for dexterous finger movements that are difficult and painful for people who have arthritis.

Pearce noticed most of the assistive devices were just specifically shaped pieces of plastic that, like most medical devices, were heavily marked up in price. Pearce relates, “It never ceases to amaze me what a small piece of plastic sells for. Anyone who needs an adaptive aid for arthritis should be 3D printing it.”

After his students designed and refined many devices, 20 of the designs were analyzed for functionality and cost effectiveness. The results? Every device performed adequately with an average cost savings of 94%. The 20 objects totaled only $20 worth of PLA plastic and each object represents approximately $20 in savings. A phone holder that retails for $50 was 3D printed for $0.79 and a $24 pill splitter was produced for $1.27.

“We printed and analyzed 20 different products and each one has a great return on investment, even for people who can use insurance to purchase adaptive aids with a co-pay, and a printer pays for itself easily,” Pearce commented, pointing out that the RepRap 3D printers used cost less than $500 and that cost isn’t the problem. “It’s a slam dunk — but the question becomes how do people get these aids?”

The older generations that suffer the most from arthritis generally aren’t into 3D printing or interested in learning CAD modeling, so some methods of delivery could be doctor’s offices, physical therapy clinics, and nursing homes that could produce such devices on site. Pearce made the design files open source and freely available online at Appropedia and MyMiniFactory, explaining, “We’re not saying an 85-year-old with no personal computer experience is developing a CAD from scratch and prototyping a design 12 times.”

The study was so successful that Pearce was approached by Makers Making Change to improve some of their existing designs. “This is the difference between needing to go to someone to get your nails cut and being able to do your own, which, yes, there’s cost savings, but it’s also personal pride and being able to take care of yourself,” Pearce said. “And if your only problem is that the standard nail clipper is too tiny, we can fix that.”



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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