I’ve written quite a lot about the promise of medical applications for 3-D printers. Here’s another one for use by trauma professionals.
Look at the good, old-fashioned plaster cast. It’s been around for decades, and serves its purpose well. It’s easy to apply, inexpensive, and reasonably durable.
Then, along came fiberglass. It’s lighter, more durable, and a bit more water-resistant. And not a whole lot more expensive.
But both of these items have drawbacks. They are heavy. It’s best not to get them wet. Their application is very operator dependent. And probably most importantly, they are opaque. This masks any wounds or skin conditions under it for an extended period of time.
Deniz Karasahin, a Turkish student, won a design award for the development of a 3-D printed cast. It used the appearance of cancellous bone as a model, and is aesthetically very cool. A body scanner is used to scan the affected extremity so that the cast can be customized to the patient. The actual cast is printed from plastic, and can be rendered in a variety of colors. It is hinged, and locks together with a simple pin mechanism.
Bottom line: This is an interesting development in 3-D printing. However, it is not for everybody. Cheap plaster and fiberglass casts are very suitable for many patients. But for some, having the ability to inspect the underlying skin or deal with wounds will make this item much more desirable. And keep in mind, this product was developed for aesthetics. The holes can be much larger and still maintain strength and rigidity. So the cast of the future could be mostly holes, making it very light and shower compatible. Many people might be willing to pay a little more for this convenience.
Note: Ignore the LIPUS ultrasound units that can be incorporated into the one in the article. This is still unproven technology and I don’t recommend it.
Reference / photo credit: A’Design Award Competition