Library Dissertation Showcase

An exploration into how additive manufacturing has benefited users of upper limb prostheses

  • Year of Publication:
  • 2022

This paper looks at how 3D printing is being used to produce trans-radial prostheses, and then at the impact this change from traditional manufacturing techniques is having on the procurement process and potential for design developments, and how these impact the users and society’s view of them. The literature review investigates 3D printing, its use in prostheses manufacture and a general overview of the social impacts of design for disability. Using this background knowledge, comparisons between traditional and additive manufacturing techniques were gathered to see the benefits of each method. To understand how 3D printing was being used, research was conducted into three case studies of trans-radial prostheses whose companies focused on different areas. The TrueLimb by Unlimited Tomorrow shows a good example of a realistic 3D printed myoelectric limb that uses a virtual fitting process. Hero Arm by Open Bionics is another myoelectric prosthesis, it demonstrates the benefits of talking to children about what they want their prosthetic limbs to look like, resulting in interchangeable panels of different Disney characters and colourful patterns. The third case study looks at the body powered, open-sourced design called Alfie Edition Arm by the charity Team UnLimbited. Having a working arm produced for £30 gives accessibility to those with lower incomes that would struggle to get them otherwise.

The information gathered was then considered alongside how society in general views prostheses and what effect 3D printing may have had on this. The ability to produce personalised, stylish prostheses has assisted in transforming society’s view of prosthetic devices from medical aids to fashion accessories. There have been some negative effects, such as the media over-selling the functionality of prostheses by only showing the initial excitement of trying on new customised 3D printed limbs, leading to a misrepresentation of the capabilities of current day prostheses. Overall, it was found that additive manufacturing has benefited the users of upper limb prostheses in multiple ways. Some of which are that the availability of 3D printers means that prostheses can be manufactured at low costs and in remote locations, with quicker manufacturing times that don’t need as highly trained personnel compared to traditional methods. The individual nature of this process also means personalisation of the prostheses can occur easily, increasing the user’s self-confidence. This, along with rising accurate representation in the media, helps to normalise prostheses and encourage their acceptance in society.

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