Casts suck. They’re itchy, smelly and ugly, but an essential step in healing a bone. Jake Evill, a recent media design graduate of the Victoria University of Wellington, wants to change that with a 3D printed arm cast that is downright beautiful.
Unlike traditional plaster and fiberglass casts, this one is made of nylon, which means it is lightweight, waterproof and recyclable. It is also thin enough to fit under sleeves and covered in holes that allow airflow and fingers in for scratching.
Evill developed the cast for a class at his university, inspired by a personal experience. “I had broken my hand that weekend and was very annoyed with the cast I had on, as it was the first time I had a cast,” Evill said in an interview Friday.
He made the early versions on university desktop 3D printers. He said it was particularly challenging to find the right wall thickness, as it needed to be as thin as possible with optimal strength. Then, he turned to Shapeways, a company that 3D prints custom goods, for the final product. Instead of liquified plastic, Shapeways printed the cast with a powder. They sealed each layer together with a laser, creating a solidified object.
If the cast was adopted by medical professionals, patients would receive an xray and 3D scan, according to materials provided by Evill. A doctor would pinpoint the fracture and use software to develop the best cast pattern. The area around the break would receive the most support with a tighter-knit pattern of material, while areas farther away on the arm would have larger holes.
Printing a cast would likely take several hours, which is slow compared to fiberglass casts that can be installed on a limb in 30 minutes. Initial setup costs would also delay any adoption for now, but as 3D printing becomes more common and the price for a printer continues to drop, a more beautiful cast could be in our future.
“With the increase in concern for the environment and just being able to help people who are suffering with a fracture have a comfortable healing process, I do hope it is put to use and goes into production,” Evill said. “The possibilities and benefits are too great to see it go to waste.”