3D Printing

3D Printing a Unique Limb for a Unique Person in Two Weeks

Due to the reduced cost of and extreme customization offered by 3D printing, additively manufactured artificial limbs stand to revolutionize the prosthetic industry completely.  In April, we covered the story of Natasha Hope-Simpson, a woman who exemplifies the possibilities of this revolution.  Today, 3D printing industry leader 3D Systems has elaborated on her story, complete with a compelling video of Natasha’s journey to design her own 3D printed leg, with the help of a big team of very helpful designers and engineers.

CAD design for Natasha Hope-Simpson's 3D printed prosthetic leg from 3D SystemsAfter a hit-and-run accident in the winter of 2013, Natasha lost the lower half of her left leg.  While such an incident may have left many to feel overwhelmed with loss, the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) graduate was eventually able to look past the injury and transform her situation entirely.  Natasha was going to design her own prosthetic leg.  She explains, in the 3D Systems case study, “This became an artistic opportunity to work with figurative sculpture on my own body. This is about having a negative space on my body and as an artist I wanted to be able to fill that space with a positive.”

In early 2014, an act of serendipity set up a chain of events that would change her life forever.  Giving a lecture at NSCAD about the process of creating a prosthetic that balanced function and aesthetics, Natasha was lucky enough to have NSCAD Director Gregor Ash in the audience.  Ash was so inspired by the graduate’s ambitious project that he hoped to enable her further. Ash contacted Thinking Robot Studios and enlisted them to help make Natasha’s personally-tailored, customized prosthetic a reality in time for NSCAD’s Maker Symposium, just 15 days away.

Natasha Hope Simpson scan for 3D printed legThinking Robot’s Kendall Joudrie, who describes the story in greater depth at 3DS, immediately set about pulling together the appropriate team, saying, “We knew that 3D printing and scanning was the only way to do this quickly and accurately.”  He contacted Mike Fanning, CEO of 3D Systems reseller NovaCAD, about producing the part, as well as Ian Weir at Canada’s Department of National Defense and Bob Garrish of Spring Loaded Technology to scan Natasha’s right leg to model a symmetrical prosthetic.  Weir and Garrish captured the young artist’s leg using laser and white light scanning and converted the scan into workable CAD with Geomagic® Studio.  Joudrie and his partner, Jourdan Dakov, then performed the actual engineering of the artificial leg, ensuring that it would meet the proper mechanical and structural requirements.

Meanwhile, Natasha was working on the aesthetic components of her new limb.  Examining femininity and with an eye on patterns, Natasha came across the 3D printed masks of Melissa Ng and fell in love.  In turn, Ng came up with a design entirely unique to the project and sent it over to Thinking Robot, who were tasked with matching their functional parts with the 3D printing artist’s work.

3D printed prosthetic leg for Natasha Hope-SimpsonJoudrie explains that the team only had 7 days to get their model to NovaCAD, who, then handed off the CAD limb to the 3D Systems team in Andover, Massachusetts to have it printed.  With every part of the team hard at work, they were able to turn it around just in time for the 3D printer manufacturer to 3D print the leg on a ProJet 7000 SLA printer.  Ultimately, the print was rushed to the Maker Symposium for Natasha to show it off and regale the crowd with the story of how she, with the help of a great team, designed and created her own prosthetic.

The artificial limb is still in the prototype stages, but Ng will be continuing to work with Thinking Robot to complete the finished design.  But, even the prototype demonstrates the potential that this technology has for the future of prosthetics.  Along with stories of 3D printed hands and fingers, coming from Robohand and E-nable, Natasha’s own experience shows that an artificial limb can not only be tailored to fit a person physically, but that they can be designed to fit the personality of the wearer, transforming it from an element of negative space into a positive piece of one’s own story.

Natasha Hope Simpson with 3D printed prosthetic leg and team

I’ve hardly done the project justice here, so I encourage you to read the case study for more specific details and to watch the video below, aptly titled “A Leg that Fits”.  In it, you’ll hear great insights from every person involved as to how amazing this endeavor actually is.