Making a very simple prosthetic arm can cost $1,000 for the materials alone. But that’s all starting to change thanks to new and improved 3D scanning and printing technology, which can shrink the cost to as little as $4. In Guatemala, where some families might earn $50 in a month, one hospital is now using digital tech and other techniques to make prosthetics accessible for patients who couldn’t have afforded them in the past.
When the hospital opened in 2006, new digital technology existed but wasn’t yet feasible to use—not to mention it was expensive. A single ‘portable’ scanner was the size of a suitcase and would cost $50,000, according to US-based prosthetist Brent Wright, who travels to Guatemala twice a year to work at the hospital. Now, the costs are low enough that Wright can bring a handheld 3D scanner, 3D printers, and materials for printing with him from America.
Creating a typical prosthetic is a labor-intensive process, but with digital technology, the prosthetist only has to create a cast and 3D scan it. Once the scan is made, the file is sent to a 3D printer and produced. Of course, having a 3D printer on-site speeds up the process, but if that’s not the case, the file can still be sent to a 3D printer remotely where it is produced and shipped to where it’s needed. That’s the idea behind a nonprofit called LifeNabled that launched out of the Guatemalan hospital, which wants to train more people to take scans locally, and then send the files to printers elsewhere