MEDICA-tradefair.com spoke to Thomas Rockenbauer and Martin Petraschka and asked them about their partnership and the digital development of the orthopedic industry.
Mr. Rockenbauer, what are the benefits of using 3D printers in orthopedics?
Thomas Rockenbauer: Orthopedics is a classic craft that creates custom-made assistive devices. This is exactly where 3D printers can shine. 3D printing makes it possible to tailor shapes, functions, and material thickness to meet each patient's specific needs. The traditional manufacturing process often reaches its limits when it comes to complex structures. The production is also a time-consuming and costly process – but meanwhile patients want quick availability. People like to wear 3D-printed orthoses because they can be customized, which also increases the therapeutic effect. Another benefit: Once the orthotic device has been designed on the computer and built, it can be used as a template and replicated with accuracy and the same quality. This can be especially relevant for pediatric orthotic applications. For children, the structure of the orthosis basically remains the same, but they keep growing as they get older.
How does your 3D printer system work?
Rockenbauer: Our 3D printing system is based on stereolithography technology. This process uses a liquid polymer that is cured in a layer-by-layer fashion with UV light. We use a vat that is filled with biocompatible resin. A projector exposes the resin vat to light and in doing so solidifies and cures the layer. The process is repeated layer by layer until the build is complete. Stereolithography is one of several methods used to create 3D-printed objects, but it has several advantages over other 3D printing processes: one of them is the printing speed. The process is faster than Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) or Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM). And unlike with SLS, our components do not have to cool down after printing. Plus, we can also create transparent objects with our method. This is an interesting aspect in orthopedics, because it allows the orthopedic technician to see through the orthosis and check for any skin irritation or pressure points.
What is your take on the future of orthopedic technology?
Rockenbauer: I believe the future of orthopedic technology is fully digital. Traditional craftsmanship will switch over to newer technologies – and embrace tools like computer-aided design (CAD). Some already make the switch to 3D scanning like Kerkoc, for example. The next big step is to also digitize manufacturing using 3D printing. The idea is to use 3D printing to produce accurate, custom solutions for patients as quickly as possible.