Most of us have been exposed to the world of orthopedics in one way or another–and it’s not a place any of us usually want to be. As the mother of two boys, I’ll never forget taking my younger son to a pediatric orthopedist due to what ended up being a harmless cyst on his knee.
I opened the door to the medical office, carting my whole group in, and in the waiting room sat literally thirty young kids, all with their arms in varying casts in a wide array of colors, most limbs encased from elbow to the hands, with the thumb sticking out awkwardly. To make matters worse, upon paying the substantial bill on the way out, the orthopedist shook my hand, smiled at the active little boys, and said he was sure he’d be seeing us again very soon. I checked out the waiting room again, and left cringing, considering putting everyone in a bubble for the next decade or so.
While being the kid at school in a cast might be exciting for about a day, soon after, amidst the pain, extreme inconvenience begins to set in. For the adult who has broken a bone, it’s just nothing but a pure bummer. There is work to do, bills to pay, places to go, and there are others to take care of.
When Scott Summit, the senior director of functional design at 3D Systems, found himself faced with the idea of a plaster arm cast, he knew that being incapacitated all the way down to the fingers was just not going to work for him–not to mention all the other issues that come with traditional casts such as figuring out how to shower or enjoy a trip to the beach.
As the founder of Bespoke Innovations, Summit was with options, considering the world of progressive design and 3D printing technology right at his very fingertips. Not surprisingly, Summit immediately looked into a more alternative and futuristic solution for healing his torn ligament.
With the most pro-active attitude toward treatment and healing that most of us have probably heard of–aside from doctors treating themselves–Summit consulted with one of his business partners who is an orthopedist and was able to help oversee a design for a cast, along with a talented group of designers.
Summit scanned his own arm, and worked with the group in making a 3D model and resulting design for one very precise–and very modern, indeed–3D printed cast. The result, although probably the most attractive ‘cast’ we’ve ever seen at only five millimeters thick, looks like a mere skeleton of that old bulky plaster monster of a cast that we traditionally know, littered with signatures, fraying edges, and grime from wear.
In another great demonstration of how 3D printing can lift restraints suddenly, reversing processes that were once arduous and even made some tasks seem intolerable, Summit shows off the best looking arm injury and accompanying healing instrument that one could possibly imagine.
“The exciting thing about 3D printing is that there’s no one area with single growth,” says Summit. “Like the Internet in ’97, 3D printing is exploding in all directions: aerospace, fine arts, dentistry, fashion—you name it. Companies are discerning that it’s the secret sauce of competitive advantage. With a specific nod to healthcare, it’s a certain sweet spot since human needs tend to be individual. Due to our morphology, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution.”
Affordable, accessible, realistic customization is truly something that’s been needed, most especially in areas like orthopedics and prosthetics. With the advent of 3D printing, those needs are starting to be met, evidenced by the world of 3D prosthetics, which is truly beginning to thrive.
For Summit’s innovative cast, the design team strategized for functionality, stability, and comfort. Their solution was in allowing for three points of fixation to the arm, as well as the hand. This allowed stability in the wrist area, assuring for post-surgical healing of Summit’s arm ligament.
“When we threw this idea for stabilization out there seven years ago, it was pretty outrageous,” Summit says. “Now we’ve proven it’s not a novelty—it’s significantly better medicine.”
Not only was Summit able to take a shower normally–and even strum on the guitar as well as go scuba diving–but the design of the cast ensured unusual comfort as it was not resting on areas that cause irritation to nerves or constricted blood flow. He could also wear normal clothes and care for the arm, which is usually a major issue with the traditional cast, as we’ve all used the coat hanger or pencil to scratch inside one, or have seen others frustrated and making contraptions–not to mention what the limb looks like after it comes out of the traditional cast. With the open structure, Summit was able to take care of the arm much more easily than patients would have been able to in the past, trying to deal with no access to their arm or leg.
“It doesn’t seem like it’s enough structure [for stability], but that’s only from the context of having too much structure with a fiberglass cast,” Summit says. “That’s done more for the convenience for the doctor versus the quality of life for patient. It’s not the best way, it’s just the way it’s been done.”
This was obviously a special design initiated by Summit himself, but it should certainly plant the seed of an idea in the orthopedics world, as well as appealing greatly to anyone who has just broken a limb. Summit sees this as a potentially more affordable solution with only seconds in application of the customized cast, reduced medical visits, and a potential volume of patients on board.
With one of these new casts, you’d be the cool kid at school–or the coolest adult at work, wearing an ongoing conversation piece–healing all the while, with a lot less hassle for all involved.
Discuss your thoughts on this latest 3D printed medical innovation in the 3D Printed Arm Cast forum thread over at 3DPB.com.
All photos credited to Bespoke.