helmet1Over the past year or so, we have really begun to see an increase in 3D printing use within the medical fields. Whether it is 3D printed implants, bioprinting in order to test drugs, or the 3D printing of medical models, the technology is certainly making inroads hospitals, and surgery centers throughout the world.

Today comes a story which is unlike anything we have seen or heard of before, showing how a talented company, utilizing an affordable FDM-based 3D printer, can help find a solution for a man who is recovering from major surgery. Playful Pixels is a Finnish based design company that takes on many top level 3D design and 3D printing projects, many of which have never been accomplished before.

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In a recent project, they were approached by a man who had been suffering from an apple-sized brain tumor. Fortunately, surgeons were able to successfully remove the tumor from the man’s head, but it left a huge piece of his skull bone missing. This left him with a large portion of his brain unprotected, covered only by skin. “His balance was so bad that he had a high risk of falling and hitting his head so we created a 3D printed safety helmet that will protect his brain,” explained Playful Pixels.

helmet7So, Playful Pixels came up with a design for a helmet which would help protect this man’s head until the skull bone could grow back. To do this, they first started by taking photographs of the head from many different angles. They could then load these photos into design software, which allowed them to create a model of a helmet that fit his head down to within only 1mm.

Once happy with the helmet design, it was 3D printed on a MakerBot Replicator 3D printer in two halves. Each half took approximately five and a half hours to print (total of 11 hours in all). When the print was complete, the two halves were joined together using cable ties, installed using a special tool, prior to adding in cushions to make sure that the helmet would fit snug to the man’s head. Best of all, this helmet, made from light-weight plastic only weighs 110g (approximately 1/4 pound).

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Playful Pixels warns that this method should not be used for the creation of other protective helmets such as those used for cyclists, skateboarders, sports, etc. Both Playful Pixels and their customer were very pleased with the 3D printed helmet, and it appears as though this will be a viable solution, allowing this man’s skull to safely heal, and for him to begin leading a normal life. This is just one more unique way in which 3D printing is allowing for the customization of products at extremely affordable prices.

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What do you think? Will 3D printing lead to the fabrication of other protective devices in the future? Discuss in the 3D Printed Protective Helmet forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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