Like many design firms, UK based Frip Design and Research is exploring the innovations made possible by 3D printing technology. Their latest endeavor is developing 3D printed prosthetics, which could significantly reduce the normal time and cost necessary to supply patients in need. While the design stage is relatively complex, the entire process including printing takes less than 2 days – significantly less time than the average 10 week wait that many patients have to endure.
In an interview with Dezeen, Tom Fripp of Frip Design explained that the first step to making a new facial prosthesis begins with an array of cameras that simultaneously take pictures of the trauma area. This maps the geometry of the face while also collecting information about skin pigmentation. Then to fill in the missing contours, technicians can scan the face of a patient’s relative or use the stock files to fill in the voids.
The prosthesis is then printed with a Z Corp 3D color printer using compatible starches and medical grade silicone, which is colored to match the patient’s skin tone. The prosthesis can then be snapped into place and sealed with a medical adhesive.
Even though the prosthesis can be produced months before a regular handmade one would be ready, the cost of the pieces is only slightly lower than normal. This is due to the extensive mapping and design necessary for each individual face. After the initial design file is made though, replicas and replacements are significantly cheaper. Prosthetic eyes are the exception; since the size and shape of eyes are typically constant, the same pattern can be used repeatedly to produce prosthetic eyes at less than 10% of the typical cost.
While the prostheses have been fitted to patients and the technology is ready, Fripp Design is still involved in the long process of medical accreditation. Frip estimates that the prosthetics could be available to the public within a year.