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3D-printing system can spit out custom-fitted bionic hands in under 10 hours

Image used with permission by copyright holder

There have been some pretty darn impressive examples of 3D-printed powered prostheses, aka bionic hands, that we’ve covered at Digital Trends. But getting them to the people who need them as quickly as possible is still something of a hurdle. Thanks to engineers at the U.K.’s University of Warwick and its industry partners, however, those days may be coming to an end.

They have developed and showcased a new system that allows for the creation of made-to-measure, 3D-printed bionic hands in just 10 hours. Their breakthrough system is the latest step in a mission to make similar prostheses available to partial amputees in as expedient a manner as possible. The project was funded — to the tune of $1.1 million — by the government-run agency Innovate U.K.

The 3D-printed hand the team created for its demonstration incorporates muscle sensors to control an articulated thumb. This thumb offers around 60 degrees of movement, allowing the hand to function in a way similar to a human hand. It can be custom-printed in a variety of colors.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

“This build time demonstrates the effectiveness in being able to integrate the electronic elements into the product in one manufacturing process, rather than having a series of separate processes,” Dr. Gregg Gibbons, the University of Warwick researcher on the project, told Digital Trends.

As Gibbons notes, the exciting part isn’t just a better workflow for carrying out the 3D-printing process: It’s the fact that the IMPACT multimaterial printer makes it possible to quickly print plastic products with integrated electrical circuitry already in place, rather than having to print the objects and then add electrical components later on. In addition to 3D printing prostheses, this production rate may also be important for other sectors looking to be able to quickly produce 3D-printed products requiring built-in electronics.

Anyone wanting to find out more about the project can do so here. An e-platform has also been developed as part of the project to allow users to provide their required arm dimensions and select the product color. While this is not currently up and running, when it is, it will provide an easy point of access for anyone wanting to quickly order a 3D-printed bionic hand.

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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