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Printed prosthetics

Printed prosthetics
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Traditionally, amputees have been offered one-size-fits-all prosthetics – functional but not particularly attractive. Now technology is blurring the line between medical devices and sculpture.

US designer Scott Summit is using a 3D printer to create a customised type of cover for a prosthetic leg.

He said: “I was always amazed it (the prosthetic) never looked like the sculpture I thought it should. They looked very utilitarian, like they came from engineers. They solved the mechanical function very well but they didn’t really address the human part of the equation. And I thought that perhaps this is where design really wants to come in and change things, make things so that you see it first thing in the morning and you get excited because you can’t wait to show it to the world.”

The person’s existing leg is scanned and the shape of the prosthetic cover is created. It can be customised with different materials – leather, chrome, heavy-duty plastic – some people even choose patterns, snakeskin or a tattoo.

Once the 3D computer scan is complete, the printing begins, building up very thin cross sectional slices until the final piece is complete.