The Future of Prosthetics: 3D printed nose, ear and eye

Sheffield-based Fripp Design, a small manufacturing company in the north of England is hoping to revolutionize the world of prosthetics.

Photograph: Fripp Design

“Fripp Design has developed a system for fast and low-cost manufacture of facial prostheses such as nose and ear replacements for accident victims. “Conventional maxillofacial prosthetics are incredibly laborious and expensive to produce,” says their creator, industrial designer Tom Fripp. And it takes normally 10 weeks to complete one. “You have to take an impression from the area of trauma, cast a plaster positive, then make a mould, carve the desired form in wax, and cast it in silicone. The end result of this handmade process costs between £1,500 to £3,000.”

Working with researchers at the University of Sheffield, Fripp’s company have developed a process that can print a customized nose or ear within 48 hours. First the patient’s face is 3D-scanned, then the specific contours are added to a digital model of the new prosthetic part for a perfect fit. These features are either taken from the scan of the patients’ relatives or the patient’s own file, for example one ear can be scanned and mirrored to replicate another.

Meanwhile they are also working on 3D-printed eyes. A handmade eye can cost up to $10,000, but a 3D printed one will only cost around $160.

The parts are printed in full colour in starch powder using a Z Corp Z510 colour 3D printer. The lightweight model is then vacuum-infiltrated with medical grade silicone, binding it together. The cost of making such a part is almost the same as a handmade prosthetic, but Fripp says once the file is created, it can be used infinitely. And the cost can be lowered to £150.

The main barrier is the high cost of 3D-scanning technology as well as getting approval from the health authority. Fripp expects the technology to be ready in about a year.”

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