No limbits! The feasibility of providing low-cost 3D printed below elbow and below knee limb replacements in a resource limited setting

Matt Te Water Naude, Mark A. Roussot, Ruqaya Gabier, Kelly Sweatman


Background: South Africa faces the challenge of producing large numbers of prostheses each year. Three-dimensional (3D) printing was investigated as a potential method of efficiently providing prostheses.

Objective: To evaluate the need for below-knee (BK) and below-elbow (BE) limb replacements at Groote Schuur Hospital; and to determine the feasibility of providing low-cost 3D printed limb replacements at Groote Schuur Hospital (GSH).

Methods: We performed a literature review and conducted interviews with staff at the Amputation clinic. Information regarding the need for BE and BK prostheses, qualifying criteria, durability and cost of traditional prostheses, and manufacture times was collected. Communication with e-NABLE and a senior biomechanical engineer provided further information. We investigated the feasibility of producing a 3D printed prosthesis by printing and assembling a prosthetic hand.

Results: 3D printing reduces the cost of a BE prosthesis by approximately 26.6% and shortens the manufacturing time; however, 3D printing technology is currently unable to provide adequate weight bearing BK prostheses and is not as cost efficient as traditional manufacturing techniques.

Conclusion: It is feasible to provide 3D printed BE prostheses in a resource-limited setting; however, BK prostheses face design challenges and are more costly than those traditionally made. 

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