Ensuring precision is essential to fulfilling the orthopedic medical needs of patients. After all, each person is unique, and the demands on their prosthetic and orthotic aids will, naturally, differ. Orthopedic technicians fully acknowledge this and understand not only the value that precise measurements bring to the business, but more importantly, the importance they hold for the well-being of their customers. Therefore, many have opted for state-of-the-art 3D scanners, including Orthin, located in the Netherlands.
Prior to adopting the 3D scanning methodology, Orthin employed a traditional plaster mold method when creating prosthetic and orthotic articles. The process involved multiple stages. First, technicians would “copy” a part of the patient’s body or his or her previous prosthetic aid using plaster. Second, tape measures and calipers helped with obtaining the object’s geometry—a rather time-consuming step that generated results that were mediocre, prone to errors, and lacking in accuracy. Finally, once recorded, the measurement data would be combined with two-dimensional drawings and photographs of the copied object. All in all, these data served to bring about the form to the final product. 3D scanning technology has made this practice obsolete.
“Using a handheld Eva scanner, the client can be scanned within a couple of minutes,” said Karel Wilbrink, an orthopedic technician at Orthin. “Once we have completed a scan of a client, we note the individual’s wishes. Back in the office, the raw data is saved on an internal server. Then it is saved as an STL file. After that, we use our orthopedic software to create a mold or the end product can be milled or 3D-printed.”
This process of digitally capturing a client requires virtually no direct physical contact with the individual patient—a stark contrast to the bygone plaster method. Previously, creating molds with plaster was a slow and frequently messy undertaking. The experience for the patient, in particular children, could also be unpleasant and intimidating. This greatly varies from the quick and clean scanning process. In fact, Orthin claims that utilizing 3D scanning has been able to cut time, labor, and costs in the design and manufacture of prosthetic aids by 90 percent.
The benefits, however, extend beyond costs and time to error minimization. By eliminating the ineffectual method of measuring and recording by hand, technicians improve accuracy drastically. Also, technicians can dispose of their large range of measuring tools and devices. Today’s advanced handheld scanners are highly automated, capturing geometries at speeds of 16 fps and replicating them in high-resolution images with brilliant colors. This nearly eliminates the learning curve associated with the technology and provides technicians with a single, streamlined solution that tackles an array of problems through a simple point-and-shoot operation.
The portability of handheld 3D scanners also provides unique advantages. If equipped with a battery pack, a technician can scan away without the need of a nearby power source for up to six hours. For Orthin, this allows the company to go to their patients. When unable to visit Orthin’s office, customers can elect to have the scan done in the comfort of their own home.
Some of the challenges with utilizing 3D scanning can occur during post-processing. Patients do not always keep completely still during scans, which can create variations in shapes and scans that don’t align properly. However, with the right software, these obstacles can be easily overcome through various automated, or manual, tools.
“When scans don’t perfectly align, we have the option to perform a so-called non-rigid alignment where the second shape is made to fit the first shape. We also have the option to do the last fine tuning, using tools such as Defeature tool. The very last thing we do is use the Editor Positioning Tool to adjust the position of our orthosis or prosthesis to the world-zero point,” noted Wilbrink.
The process of 3D scanning also allows users to compare the end-product with the original scan data to check and adjust the volume and shape. This check prevents mistakes and makes the work process self-learning. Through reverse engineering, technicians can evaluate the difference in measurements between the final product and the original scan, allowing for an even more accurate data set.
While Orthin has experienced the benefits of 3D scanning first hand-hand, the technology has not gone unnoticed by other parties. Wilbrink explains that “there are very positive reports from the field and that is primarily from patients. Our 3D products also receive a lot of praise from both orthopedics and rehabilitation doctors in the hospitals where we work. We have even been asked by the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG) to develop an operation instrument for the reconstruction of cruciate ligaments together with the orthopedic department. We have now received a European subsidy for this innovation.”
Get additional insight into Orthin’s story via the following video.
Andrei Vakulenko is the chief business development officer at Artec 3D. Prior to this role, Vakulenko was the company’s vice president of new markets. He has over 13 years of experience as partner, CEO and co-founder of high tech venture businesses from seed investments and incubators to venture funds management. Projects focused on IT and Internet business include SaaS, mobile, e-commerce, community building, recreation and travel, biometrics and pattern recognition, e-passports and machine readable travel documents, as well as optoelectronics and gas-to-liquid technology.