A plaster cast is also known as an orthopedic cast. It’s a shell designed to encase a limb or a portion of the body in order to keep it stable structurally for it to heal properly.
The material primarily used is plaster. They are very effective when it comes to helping people recover from having fractured bones, but at the same time, they have some limitations. They’re not so pleasant in appearance, and they’re also not comfortable to wear.
However, some companies are manufacturing 3D printed casts to help with those limitations. With many advantages to offer, the 3D cast is estimated to reach 1.2 billion USD by 2024. In this article, we walk you through the many benefits offered by this new technology that is poised to become ubiquitous in the years to come.
How are 3D printed casts made?
The process involved in the creation of a cast isn’t complicated, and it’s also painless. All that’s needed is a 3D scan and a 3D printer, which aren’t so hard to find nowadays. There are various automated software that can effectively help you create a cast simply through a few clicks. The cast is made to fit a limb’s 3D scan perfectly.
It is made possible because 3D software allows you to optimize and personalize designs to create a custom fit. This makes the cast lightweight compared to a traditional cast. The cast is made easily removable through clipping systems added by some companies during manufacturing.
Some additives may also be used during the manufacturing process to create a truly unique and stylish cast that will be both fun and functional at the same time.
Benefits of printed fiberglass casts
You might be wondering what makes printed casts worth it. The first benefit of the casts is that personalization is allowed through Additive Manufacturing. It’s possible to create parts that match each other precisely for legs, hands, or hips.
The comfort they offer is incomparable to the discomfort you would experience while wearing a traditional cast. A cast that’s 3D printed offers numerous advantages when compared to their classical plaster counterparts.
The fiberglass casts are filled with lattices. These are structures designed to optimize the design of a cast to support the vulnerable parts and make them lightweight. They’re an essential topic when discussing casts.
When it comes to traditional plaster casts, they’re heavy and have to be used for a long time. They’re also unhygienic since no air passes through, so showering is problematic. The 3D casts are waterproof. Therefore if you’re wearing one, you can easily shower and wash your hands.
Lattices for fiberglass casts also allow air to flow freely through the cast. Hence it won’t cause itchy discomfort or unpleasant odors. That’s what makes them weather resistant. Unlike plaster casts, they won’t have sweat accumulate during summer. The same goes for the winter and rainy seasons. Another benefit 3D casts have over traditional casts is the ease of taking them off.
Plaster casts are cumbersome to take off. A doctor must take them off, and it can be painful as well as awkward. We all remember this uneasy feeling as a kid when seeing the doctor coming with an electric blade to remove a plaster cast. I certainly do. Clips make it easier with Additive Manufacturing. Customization makes it possible to add a system to make the process of wearing and removing the cast much easier.
Top 3D printed casts
There are many interesting 3D printed cast companies on the market. The following are some leading projects worth considering. Numerous projects such as the Osteoid one that offered the possibility to heal your bones faster by combining ultrasound to the cast did not go through the prototype stage.
3D casts from this company are solid and durable. They’re manufactured using high-temperature thermoplastic, plus they’re water safe. They’re also personalized depending on what the patient wants. They allow a patient to stay active without making the injury worse. They also come in different colors.
To be noted that ActivArmor casts are FDA listed, available in the United States, and covered by most insurance companies.
This 3D cast was developed in 2016 by Medi Print, a Mexican startup. You get a cast that offers ease of use, comfort, and water resistance. The unique feature about this 3D cast is it isn’t developed using a 3D scan. Instead, an algorithm calculates the design using doctors’ data. It speeds up the manufacturing process.
It’s one of the first companies in the manufacturing of 3D casts. The company creates localized casts with lattices. The casts are ventilated, shower friendly, and lightweight. They’re created using 3D scans and X-rays of a patient’s limbs to create a custom fit. The support system provides excellent security for the broken bone.
To wrap up
One can wonder why 3D casts are not mot ubiquitous and why many of the companies involved in this new way of managing orthopedics have not broken through widely. We agree with the Medical Futurist article that doctors may still favor simplicity and ease of use over technological benefits.
3D printers are still not seen widely in hospitals, and the process of creating a synthetic cast requires a couple of hours, if not days. It could be seen as a cumbersome process to initially stabilize a fracture with a plaster cast that will then be replaced afterward with a 3D printed one.
The technology is still missing some critical convenience factors to spread widely, but we are confident that 3D printed casts will certainly become the new standard of care in the years to come. Time only will tell.