Using 3D scanning to optimise the process of prosthesis fabrication

8 October 2019

From capturing detailed crime scene footage for use in forensic analysis, to taking a 3D picture of an entire human body at once for healthcare purposes, 3D scanners are being implemented in projects across a range of professions and research disciplines. Masters of Information Technology students Weijia Wang and Chong Yan Chua, under the supervision of Dr. Tilman Dingler from the Interaction Design Lab, are working on a user-centred design approach to optimising the process of prosthetic limb fittings - using 3D scanning and printing technologies.

Prosthesis manufacturing is the process of creating and fitting a prosthetic limb, undertaken by people who have lost a limb through trauma, disease or congenital disorder. Today, the complicated and time-consuming prosthesis development process involves multiple, lengthy hospital visits. Patients require these appointments for fittings and adjustments, but each time experience extensive waiting periods. After interrogating the obstacles in place for people undergoing fittings of prostheses, Dingler began work with his students on developing a digitised approach to the process, to explore if using 3D scanning technologies could improve and optimise patient care.

The project, ‘Software Pipelines for Prosthesis Fittings Using 3D Scanning’ makes use of  our recent, state-of-the-art addition to the Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) Lab, an Artec Leo 3D Scanner. The Artec Leo, a leading-edge scanning technology, allows for portable, wireless 3D scanning at a super-high frame rate of 80 frames per second, making it optimal for use in this complex scanning project.

The 3D scanning process detailed in the project involves: firstly, a thorough scan of the entirety of the limb used for modelling. Next, these scans are uploaded to a software interface, which processes the images into a digital, 3D model of the duplicate limb. Finally, the 3D model is printed into a physical mold.

Inspired by early results and the potential of the technology to improve patient care, Dr. Marlena Klaic and Dr. Mark Graf, from the Royal Melbourne Hospital, recently proposed a challenge to Dingler, Wang and Chua: to attempt to reconstruct an ear.

One of the most challenging limbs to replicate is the human ear, with the current process being to provide a patient who has lost an ear, with an artificial ear. This type of ear prosthesis is currently based on another person’s ear imprint - as the patient’s remaining, laterally reversed ear cannot be used as a model. This often results in a prosthetic ear for the patient that does not feel like it “belongs” to them. Choosing to focus on a user-centric design process allowed Dingler, Wang and Chua to target this specific patient issue, finding a promising solution through 3D scanning.

Scanning the remaining patient’s ear, then flipping the image in the 3D modelling process, may result in a workable, “reversed” prototype that would closely resemble the form of a patient’s original ear. When the flipped model is printed, this could be further developed by a prosthetics specialist, who could then mold and refine the design of the patient’s mirrored ear.

Dingler, Wang and Chua were thrilled to produce their first set of 3D ear prints, marking another milestone in an inventive research collaboration focused on improving the lives of patients in need of prosthetic fittings.

3D model of the patient’s limb as a result of the 3D scan
First successful print of a mold, which is subsequently used to create and fit a socket
First 3D printing result of a patient’s ear based on a mirrored 3D scan