It sounds like something out of the X-Men movies: lose a body part, print a new one. But while we have the technology to 3D-print prosthetics, researchers still have to fine tune the details.
Bridget Fricke, a bioengineering student at Wright State University, is part of the fine-tuning process. Fricke and fellow biomedical engineering classmates in a senior capstone class designed and produced a prosthetic foot – customizable and scalable to the individual.
Due to the cost of 3D printing materials, industry standard information, and research databases, the group had to get creative with its $500 project budget. That’s where library resources came in, including borrowing books from the Central Catalog and access to OhioLINK’s rich research databases via Electronic Journal Center (EJC) access at Wright State University libraries.
“We requested books from other schools, and we used a lot of the databases to look for different articles on prosthetics and manufacturing in our initial research,” Fricke said.
Fricke and her classmates were the guinea pigs for a new library process that helps students acquire industry standards for research projects. These provided approved guidelines from industry experts for creating their foot. By using OhioLINK, the group identified which industry standards it would need. It then submitted a prosthetic industry standards request through the Industry Standards Organization website and the Wright State University Library. The students’ request was approved, saving them hundreds of dollars that went to purchasing materials for 3D printing.
But choosing the right material for a prosthetic foot presents different obstacles than limbs of the upper body.
“The biggest challenge for us was finding a material that could be used for a lower limb just because they support so much weight, so it’s a little bit harder with the 3D-printed material to find something that works for that,” Fricke said.
The group went with a strong, yet flexible, nylon polymer. To determine the ideal shape for the prototype, each member designed a foot to undergo stress and strain tests. The team combined the best elements of each design to create the final 3D-printed prototype.
“With 3D printing, we can make it more tailored to an individual person,” Fricke said. “If your prosthetic foot breaks or your child outgrows it, it’s not really a problem because you have this design and you can scale it up a little bit bigger and just make a new one.”
Fricke graduated in 2016 with her bachelor’s degree in engineering. She is now working toward her master’s degree in engineering innovation and entrepreneurship, on her way to one day opening a medical device business.