Anatomy and Art

a blog by Sara Egner

Rapid Prototyping

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One of the things that has been particularly emphasized in my anaplastology training is the usefulness of rapid prototyping.  Wikipedia defines rapid prototyping as “the automatic construction of physical objects using additive manufacturing technology.”  My own understanding has always been that it includes both additive and subtractive manufacturing.  Either way, you get to essentially print out 3D objects from a file, and that’s pretty cool.

For clinical usage, this is particularly helpful alongside a laser scanner.  If you have both, you can scan in casts made from impressions taken from patients, alter them digitally, and then print out the altered models for use in your own physical creation.  The catch is that technology is expensive.  The party line has traditionally been that rapid prototyping in particular is expensive.  But the touch of awesome is that those prices seem to be coming down.

At the clinic we have a CNC milling machine.  It’s a big deal.  Maybe just a year ago the clinic was featured in the news and that very machine was photographed to represent our cutting edge technology.  And it is useful in what we do.

Just a few weeks ago I was visiting Texas, and an old friend mentioned a 3D printing company where you could send your own files for manufacturing, Shapeways.com.  They charge by the square centimeter.  And it’s affordable enough for my friends to be using it to make game pieces. That’s clearly not as practical as having your own machine, but it does show a movement in accessibility.

Then just last week someone was posting an article from Cornell University on the AMI list about how 3D printing may soon be a household capability.  I have to think that whether or not that is the case, clinically at least, this technology is about to be very accessible. I’m glad that we are learning to use it now.

Of course all that being said, I haven’t heard a word about laser scanners coming down in price yet.  But knock on wood, it’s bound to happen too.  And I, for one, know a thing or two about digital manipulation.  All of my animation software is directly applicable to just such work.

This is something that I can do.

Written by Sara

January 12th, 2011 at 12:45 am

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