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3d Printing

Essay by   •  May 15, 2016  •  Research Paper  •  1,732 Words (7 Pages)  •  1,908 Views

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Approximately 1.7 million people reside in the United States with a missing limb. This is approximately one out of every 200 people. The number of new amputees is estimated to increase by 185,000 people annually. Due to the advancements in combat medical services and the survival rate for injured U.S military soldiers the Afghanistan War added over 1000 new amputee to this population. This research paper explores the impact of 3D printing within the healthcare supply chain for prosthetic devices.  The study and development of low cost 3d printed prosthetics will have a worldwide impact.

Today’s healthcare services supply chain is extremely complex and “the second largest expense for healthcare providers”. Many experts in the field of Logistics believe that improvements in the healthcare supply could be the key to resolving the rising costs and inefficiencies within healthcare. Estimates project “$5 billion is lost annually in the implantable device supply chain as a result of waste, inefficiency, and lack of visibility”, according to Bruce Johnson the CEO of a leading health care supply chain management software service (Jasmine Pennic, 2013).  


                The research team met on several occasions to discuss our findings and the focus of the project based on the information obtained through our research and hands on development. Research for the project consisted of the review of articles and white papers discussing the existing healthcare supply chains and methods, which could improve the delivery of service as well as reduce provider cost. Experts in the field of supply chain management wrote many of the articles reviewed. In addition, the team viewed YouTube videos featuring the most recent advancements in 3D printing and prosthetic devices by Prosthetist and actual amputees. Finally, the team conducted extensive research on the exploration of the capabilities and the future predictions related to 3D Printing.


Introduced in the late 1980s as Rapid Prototyping (RP) a cost effective method to develop and test prototypes to manufacturers through computer-aided design (CAD) software. Since its introduction, the opportunities associated with 3D Printing span all areas of the manufacturing arena. However, none of the opportunities is as promising as the potential uses within the healthcare industry. The use of 3D printing as a component of medical service delivery will change the future of prosthetics and disrupt the existing healthcare services supply chain. One example of this pending change in medical service delivery is the collaboration between technologist and organizations such as e-NABLE and Not Impossible Lab’s Project Daniel to make prosthetics available for growing children. These organizations supply open source designs, meaning anyone with access to a 3D printer and materials can customize and print the design plans. By creating technology for social good, the organizations are opening doors to people who would not be able to obtain prosthetics otherwise” (Vernasco, 2014).  

The e-NABLE organization founded by Jon Schull in 2013 focuses on the delivery of 3D printed prosthetic hands worldwide. Schull a Researcher at the Rochester Institute of Technology started the organization through a simple challenge on YouTube to 3D printer owner. The result of that simple challenge is the delivery of over 1500 hand to people in 37 countries free of charge. The e-NABLE does a most it work through the 3D printer cloud community connecting people in need with 3D printers in their areas the printing is performed using open source code and the printing material are donated. The organization’s primary focus is the delivery of 3D printed hands to children, which they are still growing, is a welcomed relief for many parents struggling with the expensive associated with a prosthetic devices. 3D printed hands with names such as Raptor and Raptor II print for less than $20 worth of filament on average with 12-20 hours using continuous printing.

These types of organizations are doing more than just opening doors they are changing the medical supply chain delivery model. They are  providing affordable prosthetics options to parents with growing amputee children through 3D printing.  This causes greater patient well being. The cost of one commercially made prosthetic is more than a lifetime of 3D printed prosthetics.  Often the huge financial expense of prosthetics for growing children is too much for parents to afford. A high end prosthetic hand can cost more than 70,000 dollars.  Custom fit 3d alternatives can be a better option.  Although the lightweight 3d printed plastics can be less durable than the commercial devices,  the repair and replacement only takes a few hours. The 3d printed prosthetics are made from waterproof plastic, allowing the patient to shower with their devices, offers greater independence. Enhancements in the delivery and logistics for prosthetics addressed quality of life issue for many of the countries’ amputees due to incidents at home and abroad. “Perfectly matching a person’s body is key for prosthetic devices too. 3D printing is ideal for these highly customized, small production runs (quantities of one) that demand strong but lightweight materials. 3D printing would enable those with limb loss to get exactly what they want for look, feel, size and weight, all for a fraction of the cost of a traditionally-made prosthetic” (Vivek Srinivasan; Bassan, Jarrod;, 2012).  They can also create multiple low cost prosthesis for task oriented situations.  This reduces limitations allowing for a greater quality of life.

In addition, to providing prosthetics devices through 3D Printing these organizations are drastically reducing the healthcare services supply chain timeline through the establishment of 3D Printing training facilities “to teach any person to use technology for independence and empowerment no matter where they are located” (Vernasco, 2014). The preparation and healthcare service timeline for prosthetic and orthotic devices follow a traditional supply chain model from “manufacturer to distributors (warehouses) to retailer (healthcare facilities) to the customers” (Dave Hermansen, 2014). Each device necessitates individual customization to correctly fit the residuum and perform properly often; the devices require alterations or complete redesign. Patients can be custom fit through the use of 3D scanners. A 3D scanner can digitalize the exact size and features of a patient, allowing for a perfect fit. 3D printing greatly reduces the need for manufacturers altered or reproduced devices that do not fit or work correctly, many time while the customer tries to manage without a device. A healthcare services supply chain based on 3D printing reduces the time required to deliver a properly fitted prosthetic device allowing amputees to resume their normal life sooner.



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