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The partnership between BASF and Essentium Materials has already yielded some brand new 3D printing materials, and now the two companies are turning their attention toward something even more important: prosthetics. Under Essentium’s subsidiary brand TriFusion Devices, which has been focused on creating accessible prosthetics, the companies are releasing what they are calling the strongest thermoplastic carbon fiber definitive prosthetic socket.

The easily customizable prosthetic is made from BASF’s Ultramid polyamide, which is reinforced with short carbon fiber. It’s lightweight yet tough, and is more flexible than traditional carbon fiber sockets. The material allows for small adjustments in increments of 2-3 mm as needed without weakening throughout the life cycle of the prosthetic, accommodating changes in the patient’s body.

“As a chemistry supplier, it’s exciting when our material enables a completely new development that improves someone’s quality of life,” Oleksandra Korotchuk, New Market Development Scout, Performance Materials at BASF told 3DPrint.com. “Our polyamide reinforced with carbon fiber gives the prosthetic its strength, while ensuring it’s lightweight and comfortable for the patient.”

BASF and Essentium turned to Anew Life Prosthetics and Orthotics, a clinic in Michigan, as a validation partner. Owner Chris Casteel is not only a clinician and former manufacturing professional but has also lost a limb himself, so he is a true expert when it comes to the fit and function of prosthetics. He has been working with his patients to test the TriFusion sockets and provide real-time feedback to BASF and Essentium on improvements to the 3D printing process and material selection. According to the patients, the sockets fit perfectly and are more comfortable than traditional sockets.

“Just like anything else, it’s one thing to hear about a product like this, but another thing to actually feel and touch it,” Casteel said. “We received extremely positive feedback from patients on the 3D printed test sockets and it is incredible to see and feel how well they fit. This is a huge success for the prosthetic industry and I look forward to seeing what comes next.”

3D printed prosthetic devices are not yet regulated by the FDA, but BASF and Essentium were careful to follow the strict standards in the agency’s guidelines for additive manufacturing, released in December 2017. Each step of the 30-step manufacturing process is documented and the devices are hand inspected before being shipped to clinicians. While a traditional carbon fiber prosthetic socket takes about three days to mold and cast, the 3D printed sockets take less than 24 hours from scan to ship.

[Image: BASF]

“3D printing unlocks new possibilities in medical devices such as prosthetics,” Korotchuk told 3DPrint.com. “It increases customization and comfort for the patient, but it also significantly reduces the previously time and resource intensive production process to less than 24 hours from scan to ship.”

BASF and Essentium are also working on the production of a multi-material 3D printed prosthetic with rigid and flexible TPU elements. The hard-soft socket would allow clinicians to incorporate soft material into the design for increased comfort on sensitive areas. This new socket is expected to launch later this year. In the meantime, the companies’ 3D printed prosthetic leg with carbon fiber definitive socket and foot will be on display at NPE 2018, which is taking place May 7-11 in Orlando, Florida.

“The materials used in these definitive sockets have the power to open up people’s lives to more mobility and more freedom,” said Blake Teipel, President and Co-Founder of Essentium and TriFusion. “As we propel 3D printing of functional parts, we’re proud to make a prosthetic that’s more customized, lightweight, affordable and comfortable for the patient, and make the production process easier and more efficient for the clinician.”

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