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Business Case for 3D Printing Beyond the Check Socket

The world is going digital. Photos and music are virtually all digital, typewriters have been replaced by word processors and over time, plaster will become much less common. In preparation for this inevitable transition within O&P, many struggle with building the business case for 3D printing based solely on supplanting the check socket workflows with digital workflows.

It becomes more comfortable to come to grips with the investment necessary to transition to digital when factoring in the following often-overlooked benefits.

1. Volume changes can be easily accommodated with greatly reduced labor costs

Global scaling can be used to efficiently address volume changes in your patient’s limb. With the click of a few buttons, in most CAD (Computer-Aided Design) systems, it’s possible to scale a shape up or down in size using a global scale function. This enables the creation of check sockets and flexible inners to accommodate significant changes in patient limb volume while avoiding the need to recast or the use of labor-intensive plaster modifications.

2. Refabricate an identical device with little or no labor (for when the dog chews up a flexible inner)

Once a device has been defined and a slicing profile developed to print that device, the incremental effort to print a replacement device is almost zero. This means that the cost of delivering a replacement device is primarily driven by material cost, which is a small fraction of the reimbursable amount for the replacement device. The other related benefit is that a replacement can be replaced very quickly, often same day, without deprioritizing other fabrication work to accomplish.

Based on the nature of CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing) and the resulting instructions for the machine to fabricate the device, it now becomes possible to recreate that exact device once or as many times as needed.

3. Ability to fabricate flexible inners that are a precise fit with minimal labor

Since the shape of the limb is captured digitally, it is now possible to create a flexible inner socket that is an exact fit on the outside of the limb as well as an exact fit to the inside of the socket. These flexible inners can be created with very little labor since the calculations for the offset and instructions for fabricating the flexible inner can be accomplished with a few clicks in the CAD/CAM software. TPU materials are very durable, have great bonding characteristics, and provide a comfortable interface between the patient’s limb and the socket.

4. BONUS – Create variable density devices that can offer variable durometer

One of the benefits of digital design and fabrication is that it is possible to create devices that have regions that can include additional support (harder) with other regions that may provide relief (softer). This can be accomplished using a single material, enabling practitioners to design and fabricate variable density flexible inners.

Additional benefits to considering while factoring when to adopt digital workflows:

  • Easier to capture, share and store digital positive models than plaster positive models.
  • Simplify changes between puck and suction suspension types easily from within CAD.
  • Provides the ability to fabricate overnight, while your fabrication resources are resting peacefully.
  • Your 3D printer will not call in sick!

While the industry accelerates its replacement of plaster processes with digital workflows and your organization grapples with the investments required for the transition, be sure to factor in the many new opportunities digital design and fabrication provides your practice.