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New Zealand’s 3D Printing Tailor-fit Artificial Limbs

Resuming an earlier lifestyle could be a challenge for an amputee. The good news is additive manufacturing can ease the transition. Artificial limbs are being produced at Victoria University’s School of Design in Wellington using 3D printing.

Professor of Industrial Design Simon Fraser, along with his colleagues Tim Miller, Bernard Guy and an array of eager post-graduate students, are exploring ways of making bespoke artificial limbs more accessible for New Zealand’s 4,000 amputees – all with 3D printing technology.

What the team is after could give hope to amputees, who by default, could be severely limited by their physical handicap. The essential focus of the design school is to improve the “emotional connection” between the limb and the user. Accordingly, they want a product that fits into New Zealand’s coastline and mountainous landscape, as well as the user’s lifestyle.

The artificial limbs available now on the market are very functional but tend to make people’s lives fit around the limb, rather than the other way round.

– Bernard Guy, Professor, Victoria University’s School of Design

Tim acknowledged that at the moment artificial limbs don’t represent who the person wearing them is or who they want to be. The team wants recipients to enjoy the lifestyle of their choice. That’s is exactly where the design comes in. Their goal is to have multiple limbs fit around their lifestyle and for every amputee to be able to have a specialised limb, not just athletes.

Definitely, the goal is rather ambitious. Nevertheless, 3D printing technology presents the most viable solution to answer the need. The tech itself is in a state of perpetual development. With this evolution comes the potential for a greater range and functionality of limbs, as well as aesthetics to make it meet a customer’s wishes. The prospects are looking good. Over time, industry experts believe 3D printing will deliver cheaper and more functional artificial limbs than what’s currently available.

The design school offers a range of post-graduate courses where students focus on opportunities to develop new concepts. So far, results are promising, with a ‘swim limb’ on its way to becoming suitable for production by the New Zealand Artificial Limb Service. The flexible swim limb, a cross between a human leg and a flipper, allows amputees to swim with ease in a straight line – as well as being able to walk to the pool with dignity.

Additive manufacturing or 3D printing is the perfect way to tailor-fit a product to a user. Unlike 3D printing, traditional manufacturing involves moulds which not only cost a ton but also can factor in added time. What makes it truly superior is that 3D printing can tailor fit a product exactly to a user’s need. So, dentists can factor teeth replacements that suit the client best and shoe manufacturers can deliver pairs of shoes that fit the contours of a user’s feet.

ICT plays a huge role in 3D as designs are computer-aided. What’s more, designs can be sent online to fit the demand of a client thousands of miles away. Technology indeed offers a way to better lives.

With digital transformation, there are plenty of things that could change for the better in Aoteroa. What makes New Zealand stand out is its support of technology. With its planned digital currency, online transactions can be as secure as face-to-face interactions. It financed, for instance, a global marketing campaign aimed at showing the world its technology, attracting needed talent and capital in the process, as reported on OpenGov Asia.

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