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Factory workers get 3D printed thumbs to prevent injury

We've featured plenty of 3D printed prosthetics on this blog already, but usually they're for people who've lost limbs, or were born without them. BMW's prostthetic thumbs are a bit different, since they've been made for perfectly healthy factory workers - they're designed to help make workers' lives easier, and safer.

The "thumbs" are custom printed to fit the size and shape of each individual worker's thumb. Made of a semi-flexible thermoplastic and worn strapped to the hand, they act as support, making the workers' hands stronger and less prone to injury when they're doing repetitive physical tasks, like fitting plugs into the chassis of cars.

A Polish penguin is getting a 3D printed beak

A penguin at the Warsaw Zoo had damaged his beak so severely that he couldn't eat or groom himself, making his survival uncertain. But thanks to a team of 3D printing experts, he's going to get a new beak.

3D printing firm MTT Polska had approached the zoo, without knowing about the penguin's plight. "We had gone to the zoo to see if they could use any of our 3D technology, and didn't know anything about the bird at first," said Bartek Jarkiewicz, "They said they had a penguin with a problem and asked if we could come up with a new beak."

Having scanned the beak of another recently deceased penguin, the team were able to design a 3D model of a new beak that would fit the poorly bird. Then they printed it - in a range of different materials, in case one proves unsuitable, or gets broken again.

An injured millwright has printed his own prosthetic fingertip

After losing part of his finger in an industrial accident, Christian Call was unemployed and unable to afford a prosthetic replacement. Or at least he thought he was, until he saw some YouTube videos of 3D printers and figured he could make his own prosthetic.

Call had a background in milling and machinery, so figuring out a 3D printer wasn't much of a challenge. Using an UP printer, he started trying out different fingertip designs, wearing each new version for a week or two before figuring out a way to make it better. The current incarnation bends forward when Call bends his finger, just like a real fingertip would, and it has a magnet built into the very tip, to make it easier for him to pick up metal objects.

Using 3D techniques to make prosthetic legs cooler

Bespoke Innovations is a new company that designs and makes “fairings” – covers for prosthetic legs that can be designed specifically for the individual customer.

There are several steps to the process: first, a 3D model is created by scanning the customer’s legs. Then it’s tailored to their shape and design preferences – all kinds of patterns and graphics can be added – and finally the fairing is printed on a 3D printer. The whole thing can be done in a couple of days, though often the customisation process takes longer.

The company was set up by Scott Summit, an industrial designer, and Kenneth Trauner, an orthopaedist. The idea of fairings, the company’s first product, is to create something individual and stylish that’s also light-weight and structurally sound. 3D modelling and printing is therefore an ideal fit.

Bespoke’s fairings aren’t cheap – they run into the thousands of dollars. But there’s potential for this to become something incredible. Sarah Reinertsen, an athlete who lost a leg when she was a child, sees this as the beginning of better prosthetics. “As an athlete, I’ve been pushing boundaries, especially in endurance, and providing that a woman with a disability can do something as extreme as Ironman. And I want to be part of a cultural shift that changes your idea of what is beautiful as we rebuild the human body in the modern world.” Put like that, it sounds pretty inspiring.

Find out more from Bespoke’s website.