Rewind: 2014 was the year of the 3D-printed prosthetic

Undoubtedly, 2014 has emerged as quite the watershed year for 3D-printed prosthetics. Whereas traditional transfemoral and transhumeral prostheses can set a patient back anywhere between $10,000 to $15,000 every three to four years due to wear and tear, 3D printing is proving to be a much more efficient, cost-effective alternative. Thanks to the rise of [Atmel based] 3D printers, a lifetime of prosthetics will soon cost much less than just a single commercially-made artificial limb.

In the near future, increased accessibility to 3D printers, as well as organizations like e-NABLE and Not Impossible Labs, will provide those in need with the ability to create custom, on-demand prosthetics.

With just weeks left before 2015, we’ve decided to highlight some of our favorite 3D-printed prosthetic projects that have made a difference over the last 12 months…

Youbionic will usher in a new era of prosthetics

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Developed by Italian designer Federico Ciccarese, the white plastic hand is equipped with multi-colored wires attached to an electronic switchboard, powered by an Arduino Micro (ATmega32U4). Going one step further than the average prosthetic, the hand works through a series of sensors and actuator motors, controlled by the Arduino board. “I tried to make it as pleasing to the eye as possible while also focusing on making its movements as natural as possible,” Ciccarese explains.

This Wolverine hand is clawsome

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e-NABLE volunteer Aaron Brown recently gained the attention of mainstream media after he sought out to add a new dimension to prosthetic hands, which at the time, had not been done before. In fact, he wanted to create custom superhero hands, starting with the world’s first 3D-printed prosthetic Wolverine claw. So, Brown decided to 3D print a cyborg beat prosthetic hand, using traditional “Michigan blue and yellow colors” (after all, it was on display at the Grand Rapids Maker Faire). He then attached short, plastic claws to Velcro to the hand. [h/t e-NABLE]

Iron Man to the rescue

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Pat Starace recently put together a beaming, blinking and beautiful version of Tony Starks’s armor using an Arduino, some LEDs and Bluetooth. The Maker elected to develop his own hand abiding by several principles — it had to look and perform awesome, and it had to hide all the strings (typically visible in other low-cost 3D-printed prosthetic hands), so nothing distracted from its magic. “How can we help a child that faces everyday challenges with a disability? My answer is to give them the most awesome prosthetic hand, and raise their self esteem to Super Hero Levels,” Starace adds.

Students create a robotic prosthetic arm

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Students at Washington University in St. Louis recently created a robotic prosthetic arm for 13-year-old Sydney Kendall. The total cost? $200, a mer of the price of standard prosthetics. The prosthesis is battery-powered and controlled with an accelerometer; while the thumb moves with a slightly different trigger – compared with finger motion.

3D printing gives man a $100 bionic hand

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With the help of a $100 3D-printed design, do-it-yourselfer Howard Kamarata has regained some of the ability to use his hands after a devastating accident. While working on an outdoor project one October night, a slip of a miter saw took off four fingers above Kamarata’s knuckles. Industrial designer Casey Barrett got wind of the incident and offered to assist using a 3D printer, which he used to create the missing pieces for each finger. He rounded out the design by piecing together a glove, fishing wire, pins and screws purchased at a DIY shop.

$50 3D-printed hand trumps $42,000 prosthesis

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53-year old Jose Delgado, Jr. was born without most of his left hand. With the help of insurance, Delgado managed to obtain a number of different prosthetic devices over the years, including a myoelectric device that uses the muscle signals in his forearm to trigger the closing or opening of the fingers. The total cost? $42,000, of which Jose paid about half out of pocket. Unsurprisingly, Delgado eventually decided to seek a cheaper option and so approached Jeremy Simon of 3DUniverse to inquire about obtaining a simple 3D-printed prothesis. Simon recommended the Cyborg Beast – even though he was initially somewhat skeptical about the basic 3D-printed prothesis. In short, the simple, mechanical design has provided Delgado with more day-to-day functionality than his far more expensive myoelectric prosthesis.

Robohands aiding in conflict zones

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Daniel Omar, who lives in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan, lost both his arms at just 14-years-old when a government plane dropped a bomb near his village during the country’s protracted civil war. Omar – who is now 16 – only recently picked up a fork to feed himself for the first time in two years using a prosthetic arm with parts make on an [Atmel based] MakerBot Replicator 2. The arm was designed by Mick Ebeling, the CEO of Not Impossible Labs.

Student creates 3D-printed prosthetic arm for a classmate

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Evan Kuester, a digital fabrication graduate student, didn’t feel completely fulfilled by his coursework. He worked through his studies, but wasn’t necessarily making the impact that he had hoped. After noticing a female student on campus without a hand, he decided to put his education to good use. Kuester designed the arm using Rhino with a plug-in called Grashopper. Upon taking photos of his fellow classmate’s arm and a few measurements, he began modeling something that would be both functional yet aesthetically pleasing. The final prosthetic was printed in ABS as a single piece and did require a support structure for that intricate frame work. Once the support structure was dissolved, it was ready to be worn. [h/t MAKE]

3D printing helps 71-year-old man avoid amputation

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A staff of Australian doctors carried out the world’s first procedure of printing a new heel bone. Pioneered by Professor Peter Choong at Melbourne-based Saint Vincent’s Hospital, the breakthrough has allowed 71-year-old Len Chandler to avoid amputation after being diagnosed with cartilage cancer in the foot. Typically speaking, those suffering from this disease lose the leg below the knee due to possible fracture. In order to create an exact replica of the patient’s right heel bone, the team mirrored a CT scan of Chandler’s tumor-free left heel bone which had the exact dimensions. The bone was then constructed out of titanium using a 3D printer.

3D printing helps build upper jaw prosthetic for cancer patient

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After a 41-year-old Bangalore man was diagnosed with cancer of the palate, surgeons proceeded to remove his upper jaw, which unfortunately left sections of his nose and mouth exposed. Shortly thereafter, the patient sought a prosthesis but dentists were hesitant in treating him, as taking an impression and producing a mold proved problematic given his inability to open his mouth. It was then that Osteo3D got involved. Using a CT scan to create a 3D reconstruction of the patient’s face, Osteo3D printed a replica of the patient’s mouth, complete with lower and upper jaw, the defect and his teeth. [h/t Gizmag]

6-year-old receives a hand from a group of college students

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The family of a 6-year-old boy who was born without an arm had been struggling to find a way to afford a prosthetic limb for the child — until a group of University of Central Florida students built one for a fraction of the price with a 3D printer. Alex Pring was given his new prosthetic arm — which cost just $350 to build — after the UCF team led by Albert Manero spent two months completing a prototype and publishing its blueprints online. [h/t New York Daily News]

2-year-old given 3D-printed prosthetic

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A two-year-old named Caedon Olsen recently received the gift of a new prosthetic hand, thanks to a team of computer science students at Brenham High School in Texas. Olsen was born with an underdeveloped right hand due to a disorder called Ambiotic Band Syndrome, which left the infant without fingers on his right hand and a right palm smaller than his left. His mom, Jeanette Olsenm, approached the high school and with their $1,500 3D printer, the students took on the challenge of creating a prosthetic for the boy. [h/t Global News]

Students lend a helping hand to a former teacher

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Former students of fourth grade teacher Patti Anderson, who had lost one of her hands in an accident involving a professional laundry machine, had written a letter to doctors at Johns Hopkins in hopes of getting her a 3D-printed prophetic hand. And well, it worked! [h/t 3DPrint.com]

3D printing gives Quack-Quack a second lease at life

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A duck was basking in the sun at National Taiwan University, when a dog randomly attacked the unsuspecting bird. A local animal hospital performed immediate surgery to repair the fowl; yet coming out of the procedure they determined that it would not be able to put any weight on its leg. In true Maker fashion, the ingenious collaboration of Taipei Hackerspace and design firm Lung X Lung turned to 3D printing to help out the duck.

Dad creates 3D-printed fingers for his son

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12-year-old Leon McCarthy was born without fingers on his left hand, but thanks to his determined dad, a generous inventor and a 3D printer, he now has a brand new set of digits. [h/t Christian Science Monitor]

TurboRoo gets a new set of wheels

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What happens when you take an adorable dog, 3D printing and the kindness of strangers throughout the Maker community? TurboRoo is a chihuahua that was born with a birth defects that caused his two front legs never to grow. While a baby, TurboRoo’s owners created a makeshift set of wheels from an assortment of children’s toys together. Knowing that their pet required a permanent solution, they began seeking $600 in funds online to get this friendly canine into a wheelchair. Maker Mark Deadrick came across TurboRoo’s touching story online. Given the distance between the two (Deadrick lives in San Diego while TurboRoo in Indianapolis), the President of 3dyn decided to print a wheelchair merely based on online photos using a MakerBot Replicator 2.


With the advent of 3D printing, it’s exciting to see how hospitals, labs and Makers are coming together to truly ‘make’ a difference in the lives of those in need. As another year comes to a close, we can only imagine what the future holds for the next-gen technology that continues to revolutionize the medical field — for the better.

3 thoughts on “Rewind: 2014 was the year of the 3D-printed prosthetic

  1. Pingback: 3D printing gives one dog the ability to run for the first time | Bits & Pieces from the Embedded Design World

  2. Pingback: Maker builds a 3D-printed bionic arm for under $250 | Bits & Pieces from the Embedded Design World

  3. Pingback: Doctors create a trachea using a MakerBot 3D printer | Bits & Pieces from the Embedded Design World

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