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Creating 3D-printed prostheses from forest raw materials

Dr. Li Yang, Innventia. “Improving the properties of 3D structures is one of the challenges of the project,” he says.

How can an artificial limb be made a little less… artificial? When it is produced using renewable forest materials to create a highly-customizable, more environmentally-friendly prosthetic at a more reasonable cost for patients and providers.

In partnership with four other companies, Innventia—a world-leading forest products research institute with headquarters at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm—has launched the AMPOFORM project to develop technical solutions for printing 3D prostheses manufactured from forest raw materials. AMPOFORM stands for Additive Manufacturing of prosthetic products based on forest raw materials; it’s an interdisciplinary project based on bio-based materials chemistry and 3D-printer technology. Partial funding for the project comes from Vinnova, the Swedish government’s expert agency for innovation policy.

“Our goal is to combine 3D printing with cellulose-based materials for additive manufacturing of prostheses,” says Li Yang, a project manager in graphic technology and optical calibration at Innventia. “Through this, we will bring together both materials and technology that are at the forefront of development, something that is an exciting challenge. At the same time, we want to create a new value chain for healthcare, with various businesses working together on several fronts.”

The production of prostheses currently mainly uses fossil-based materials, such as thermoplastics and carbon fiber. The manufacturing process is often complicated, requiring a lot of manual work and experience. The AMPOFORM project intends to simplify prosthesis manufacturing, something that will save time for both technicians and patients. The ability to undertake individual customization will increase significantly, while manufacturing costs will fall and the prostheses themselves will become more environmentally friendly.

“With this project, we want to contribute to the long-term sustainability of the public healthcare sector,” continues Li Yang. “The use of bio-based materials in 3D printers also opens up the possibility of other products that were previously impossible or too expensive to manufacture in the traditional manner. Our vision is for Sweden to become a global leader in additive manufacturing in the long term.”

Nanocellulose and carbon fiber from lignin, among other materials, will be used in 3D printers for the prostheses. Additive manufacturing involves less consumption of materials and this, together with the time savings, also provides economic benefits. Overall, prosthesis manufacturing costs can be reduced by up to 50 per cent.

“Improving the properties of 3D structures is one of the challenges of the project. We will also evaluate both the 3D-printer technology and the production process and marketing requirements within the healthcare sector,” concludes Li Yang.

Innventia is the coordinator for the project, which will run from June 2016 to May 2019. Other participating companies are Stora Enso, Wematter, Fillauer Europe and Orthotics/Region Örebro County, all with leading expertise in bio-based materials, 3D printers and prostheses and orthotics. Of the total budget of SEK 11 million (US$ 1.27 million), 44% is being provided by Vinnova.

Contact: Li Yang, Innventia, li.yang@innventia.com

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