3D Printing Beautifies and Personalizes Prosthetic Limbs

There’s been a recent surge of press about a San Francisco company called Bespoke Innovations. It’s one of these stories where you can really see how 3D printing can positively affect people’s lives, and in this case the lives of those who have lost or were born without a limb.

They really got a boost after Bespoke’s Scott Summit’s presentation at the November 2011 TEDxCambridge event was posted online last March. Let’s just cut to the video now:

Bespoke Innovations was founded by an Orthopedic Surgeon and and Industrial Designer in 2009, and they set their mission to “bring more humanity to people who have congenital or traumatic limb loss.” They see the problem with medicine today as being too much of a “one size fits all” business. Instead, they see each human as unique, with different tastes and styles. And they recognize and honor this by creating products that allow their clients to personalize their prosthetic legs, so they can emotionally connect with them and wear them confidently.

Specifically, they produce what they call Bespoke Fairings™, which are specialized, custom-designed coverings that surround an existing prosthetic leg. The Fairings are co-designed by Bespoke and the client, choosing from a library of graphics and patterns and even customized text. The finish is also custom-selected, choosing from such materials as ballistic nylon, leather or minor-polished metal. Want a tat? They can laser-etch a tattoo on the Fairing surface as well.

In addition to looking cool, they are modular, durable and lightweight. The fairings are made up of a front part and back part, each of which can be swapped in and out for various activities. One might wear a durable and lightweight polymer Sport Fairing for a game of football. A metalized or leather Fairing might be nice for a night out. There are endless designs, combinations and customizations.

None of this comes cheap though — Bespoke Fairing will run a customer between $4,000 and $6,000. The price, of course, varies on the design complexity and materials that are selected. Insurance does not cover the cost.

So, how does it work? First the company scans both the client’s natural leg and his existing prosthetic leg, and a 3D computer model is created, with the intent of restoring symmetry to the prosthetic leg. Those with two prosthetic legs can use a stand-in who approximates the desired shape. Here’s a video on the process:

After the size and shape is scanned and modeled, the customization of the design begins. Currently, this is done working directly with the customer, but come July they will have online a new tool called the “Configurator” which will allow users to explore and apply the range of customizations to a model and can immediately see what their future Fairing will look like.

Here’s a video of the design process:

Once the design is finished, they have to produce the Fairing. Enter 3D printing.

It’s all just beginning…