Orthotic 3-D Printing Plays in Superbowl 50

Orthotic 3-D Printing Plays in Superbowl 50

Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis broke his arm during the NFC playoff game. Under normal circumstances, this would have ended his chance in playing in Superbowl 50 two weeks later.

Initially, doctors fitted his forearm with a metal plate held on by a dozen screws. This would be sturdy, but not strong or flexible enough to withstand the impact of an NFL tackle, which has been estimated at about 1,600 pounds of force.

Davis was having a good year and neither he nor his team was keen about him sitting on the sidelines. They had two weeks to come up with a solution or he would sit out the Superbowl. So they contacted 3-D printing innovator Whiteclouds in Utah, whose clients include NASA, Dreamworks, Walmart and Marvel. They did not normally print medical devices, but they accepted the challenge knowing it was needed on very short notice. He had to be back on the practice field fast. They decided a 3-D printed arm brace might solve the problem.

The process of 3-D printing (also called rapid prototyping, additive manufacturing, and mass customization) consists of making custom solid three-dimensional objects from a digital file or scanned object. The process lays down succeeding thin layers of plastic or other materials to build an object literally from the ground up.

The device for Davis had to be light and comfortable, as well as strong and flexible, and be within the NFL’s rules for casts and braces. They scanned his arm and created a shock absorbing brace using plastic and rubber. It took eight hours to design and about a day to print.

The brace ran almost the whole length of Davis’ forearm. After Davis wore the brace at practice, his doctors determined he would be able to play at the big game.

While the games’ final score did not go the way Davis would have preferred, he did set an important milestone. Davis was the first player to wear a 3-D printed device in a Superbowl game. But probably not the last.

So that’s fine for professional athletes, but what does that mean for our patients? With 3-D printing, we may be able to scan and print custom devices in a couple of hours. The device will fit well, be waterproof, unlikely to irritate skin and cost effective.

This could have special advantages for children, as they may grow out of their braces. New ones simply could be scanned and printed.

The process has also caught the attention of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Open Manufacturing program, which is exploring using this technology to create braces for injured soldiers,

This technology is not cheap enough and refined enough for general use at this point. But that day is coming. We may soon be using 3-D printing to make your back, arm, leg or knee brace.  With all the same service and attention to detail you expect from P&O Care.