Orthopedic technology: 3D scanners change the industry
Orthopedic technology: 3D scanners change the industry
Interview with Andrei Vakulenko, Chief Business Development Officer, Artec 3D
Orthopedic technology involves taking a measurement of a specific body part and then creating a medical device, be it prosthesis or orthosis, that fits. While optical scanners are already used for some of these measurements, others are still performed through manual labor and craft to create molds of the body. 3D scanners are changing this.
In this interview with MEDICA-tradefair.com, Andrei Vakulenko talks about the use of 3D scanners in orthopedic technology, and how they change the way prosthesis and orthosis are created.
Mr. Vakulenko, what significance does 3D scanning have in orthopedic technology today?
Andrei Vakulenko: I think we need to consider two aspects of the work in orthopedic technology. One is that the offices of orthopedic technicians traditionally look a lot like workshops where manual labor is done. The technicians use plaster to create molds of body parts and they use tools to create their products. Young specialists do not want to work in this environment that does not look like high-tech and medicine very much.
The other part is the important opportunity a digital workflow provides. We see some kind of consolidation of smaller companies towards bigger networks. Technicians do not produce every prosthesis themselves. They rather take measurements and send these to a manufacturer. This is a kind of industrialization. Of course, it is much easier to send a 3D scan than a plaster mold, and to store it as well.
How does this change the industry?
Vakulenko: We see diversification. In one branch, orthopedic technology is using more and more standard products which are only slightly adjusted to the wearer.
The other branch is individualization. If wearers do not want a product from the shelf, they expect their prosthesis or orthosis to be designed specially for them and to cover their special needs. For example, one of our clients made an orthosis to use during fishing for a customer who partly lost the ability to move his hand.
We also observe this individualization with younger people and teenagers. In the past, they often tried to hide orthosis or prosthesis. Now orthopedic companies offer modern, stylish products that wearers want to show. From a psychological point of view, this is very important to make the wearers feel more comfortable with their orthosis or prosthesis.
To make these individual designs and devices, the technicians need to use special software. They cannot do this with hard materials like plaster. And if they want to do this, they need to digitize their customer's body using a 3D scanner to create a product that fits.
Thanks to a 3D scanner ("Spider" from Artec 3D, the blue device in the middle of the picture), existing parts of the body can be used a template for cosmetic prostheses. The ear of a boy has been scanned here.
What does the process of creating a prosthesis or orthosis with a 3D scanner look like?
Vakulenko: A lot of technicians use our handheld 3D scanner because it is much easier to use than other devices. You can scan a part of the body from all angles, just like you would with a camera, to receive a mesh, a digital model of the body part. This model can be processed. Sometimes companies use a specific orthopedic software, sometimes they use a general engineering software for the design of hardware. The model can then be sent to a manufacturer, or it can be printed directly using a 3D printer.
How did this change the workflow in orthopedic technology?
Vakulenko: We observe that the steps in this process are increasingly shared between different specialists. A technician scans the patient and afterwards transfers all the raw data to an engineer or designer who processes these data and performs all the other steps. This way, the technician can focus on his own tasks and the needs of the patient.
3D scanners can also be used for orthopedic applications, like scanning the back of a patient.
Do you still see limitations of the technology?
Vakulenko: When just very simple measurements are taken, a scanner is not needed. This can be the case with above-knee prosthesis. The upper leg is just a soft part of the body, it is not very different between patients. But if more detailed data is needed, a scanner should be used.
What cases would that be for example?
Vakulenko: Scanners can be used very well to scan the torso of a scoliosis patient who needs a corset or to scan the heads of babies who need helmets to correct the shape of their head. We can also scan a person’s hands, feet or ears to make very realistic prosthesis for cosmetic purposes. Another standard, but very useful application, are custom seats for wheelchairs.
3D scanners are also used to measure body parts and assess the progress of treatment. For example, in the treatment of lymphedema, a common consequence of orthopedic surgery.
What further development do you expect from this of technology in the future?
Vakulenko: 3D scanners will become extremely easy to use. Think of the history of photography: the first camera was a huge wooden box, and it took forever to take a picture. Today you take pictures with every phone. I think that step-by-step we will make the process of 3D scanning easier and more and more useful to people in each area.
Also, the use of the cloud for data storage and processing will increase. This will be particularly useful when the workflow further divides between different specialists, and it will help to organize the large amounts of data that come with 3D scanning.
More topic-related exciting news from the editors of MEDICA-tradefair.com: