The revolution of additive manufacturing technology in scoliosis braces

Additive manufacturing technologies have been revolutionizing the design and manufacturing of medical devices in particular by its ability for personalization and design freedom, that can bring great improvements for the design and manufacturing of scoliosis braces.

A presentation by Maria Cristiana Ferreira Da Costa, Postdoctoral researcher at Ghent University, Mechanics of Materials and Structures.

Scoliosis brace are orthotic devices used to stabilize and prevent the progress of mild spinal deformities observed in Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis (AIS). Such condition affects adolescents who typically have to wear a tailored made brace for full-time, except only for bathing and sporting. Typically, the design and manufacturing of scoliosis braces involve a number of manual and empirical steps based on the experience and knowledge of Certified Prosthetist Orthotists (CPO), leaving aside the biomechanical mechanisms involved in the treatment.

Nowadays, the integration of digitalization and Additive Manufacturing (AM) technologies allow a more thorough analysis over the biomechanics of spinal correction in patients with scoliosis, thus bringing more functionality to the design process. Recently, 2D and 3D clinical scanning technologies used to capture the patient’s trunk skeleton and morphology have been used together with Computed Aided Design (CAD) tools for the digital fabrication of positive molds of the patient’s trunk bringing already an improvement in the fitting and waist levels produced by conventional plaster casting processes.

Moreover, Computer Aided Engineering (CAE) tools, as Finite Element (FE) models, have been also used to study the effect of some brace design parameters on spinal correction and evaluate brace effectiveness. However, comfort and aesthetics are also fundamental aspects for the design of optimized spinal braces as they also greatly affect patient’s compliance with treatment. Such aspects have been somehow compromised by the current thermoforming process used for the manufacturing of spinal braces.

Using AM processes to produce optimized spinal braces will allow for more design freedom for added functionality. The challenge now is the creation of streamlined workflows that allow a semi-automated and systematic processing of data from medical images to CAD/CAE models of quality and safe devices ready to print.

Interview

Question 1: What drives you?
The driving force of my research is the search for more objective and systematic methodologies that can help to improve and make more efficient the design of clinical treatments.

Question 2: Why should the delegate attend your presentation?
In my presentation I’ll give you my view on how the conventional design and manufacturing processes of scoliosis braces can be improved by the integration of digital and AM processes, and some insights on how to integrate those technologies in a streamlined way in the routine of medical industries and services.

Question 3: What emerging technologies/trends do you see as having the greatest potential in the short and long run?
I believe there will be a growth in the use of AM technologies in the field of patient-specific prosthetic and orthotic devices. Due to the less tight regulatory chain involved for the design and manufacturing of such devices, when compared to implants, and the high demand for patient-specific treatment solutions to tackle the individuality of each subject for a certain treatment.

Question 4: What kind of impact do you expect them to have?
Centered in the patient clinical treatments, improvement in quality and efficiency of the clinical industries and services.

Question 5: What are the barriers that might stand in the way?
As an emerging technology 3D printing needs to prove its advantage comparing to conventional production methods in terms of functionality and prices.

Find out more about the Mechanics of Composite Materials Research @ Ghent University, Belgium on this website.

Maria Cristiana Ferreira Da Costa will present at the 3D Medtech Printing Conference.

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