Published on January 11th, 2017 | by 3dmiddleeast0
ActivArmor uses 3D scanning to create breathable, water-safe alternative to casts and splints
ActivArmor, a Colorado-based company that makes custom-fit medical casts, is using 3D scanning technology to ensure that each patient receives a perfectly fitted device. The company has also used 3D printing to prototype its affordable, water-safe products.
There are many reasons why people and businesses might start using 3D scanners. The technology is becoming increasingly cheap, versatile, and effective, and is now used to create customized medical devices, shoes, replicas of famous artifacts, and much more. Diana Hall, founder and CEO of ActivArmor, has her own unique reasons for getting into 3D scanning, and recently let us know a bit about her company’s history, its products, and its philosophy.
Hall, a chemical engineer by trade, was running a mentoring program for children in poverty several years ago. During the program she encountered many children who had splints and casts, but many of these children had trouble keeping the medical supports clean and dry for the long periods specified by their doctors. On one harrowing occasion, a young boy got his cast wet, but was too embarrassed to tell anyone. He ended up with permanent scarring—a conclusion that could easily have been avoided. Faced with such trauma, Hall resolved to find a better way of treating people with everyday limb injuries.
And so it was that ActivArmor, a company that specializes in breathable and water-resistant casts, developed and personalized using 3D scanning technology, was born. Hall’s company, formed in direct response to impractical plaster casts and splints, produces support devices that are custom fit to each patient’s body and mapped to the contours of the limb or injuries requiring stabilization and support. Because they are made from plastic, ActivArmor devices are waterproof, and their mesh-like pattern allows the underlying skin to breathe.
A key part of the ActivArmor process is 3D scanning, which is used to acquire an accurate picture of a patient’s affected body part, after which the plastic device can be made. “Trained medical professionals at our scanning clinics position the patient for their ideal healing outcomes and perform an accurate 3D body image scan, which takes around 30 seconds,” Hall told 3Ders. “The scan and instructions are then uploaded to ActivArmor for design, fabrication, and finishing. The patient is put back into their temporary splint or traditional cast for a few days until their device arrives at the clinic for fit to the patient.”
Each ActivArmor device is made from a high-temperature thermosetting plastic, which gives medical professionals and patients a huge amount of freedom when compared to traditional casts. Doctors can, for example, free up or immobilize certain target areas of the body part, while the device can also be made removable thanks to a patent-pending closing mechanism. Importantly, the devices have already been registered with the FDA, and are covered by most insurance providers.
Although end-use ActivArmor casts are not made using the company’s in-house 3D printers, 3D printing has played an important role in the development of the company’s portfolio. “For product development and prototyping, we use a bunch of different printers,” Hall told us. “I like my Fusion3 F306 for most things. Sometimes I need bigger printers as well, depending on the exoskeleton design we’re working on. But our medical device manufacturing partner uses proprietary, internally developed equipment and processes to ensure the highest quality products.”
According to Hall, ActivArmor products are suitable for a range of patients, from professional athletes to small children, as well as elderly or claustrophobic patients who would struggle with other options. “Athletes say they love [ActivArmor devices] because they are breathable, they can sweat and ice bath in them, and the design flexibility allows for unique positioning options specific to each athletic activity,” Hall said. “Parents say they appreciate them because their kids don’t have to worry about getting dirty or wet during their recovery, [which means] that their lifestyles are less restricted.”
In addition to its high level of patient satisfaction, ActivArmor has also been a hit with physicians. This is because the water-resistant and low-irritation devices have reduced the need for re-casting, while all fitting processes are carried out by ActivArmor themselves, giving physicians more time to concentrate on the things that matter. Additionally, the unique structure of the new casts allows doctors to expose incisions or pins for observation or dressing.
To get an ActivArmor cast fitted, patients first need to be recommended for the device by their doctor. Surprisingly, however, pricing for the entire scanning and fitting process is in a similar range to existing cast and splint options. At present, patients are only likely to have the option in Colorado, where the company is based, but a massive national expansion will soon see the patient-specific, 3D scanned medical devices available all over the United States. Hall claims that early feedback from patients and physicians has been overwhelmingly positive, and is now looking forward to scaling up the operation, both geographically and on a technological level.
“Field tests in hospitals and clinics across the Colorado Front Range have elicited an amazing response from both physicians and patients in the form of improved patient satisfaction and lifestyle freedom, as well as reduced skin irritation complaints,” Hall commented. “Physicians’ feedback includes the ability to expose or treat incisions and things like pins, or adapt new technologies such as bone stimulators and biomonitors.”
By harnessing the power of 3D scanning and 3D printing technology, ActivArmor could potentially become one of the most important technology-focused medical device companies in the country—something Hall clearly believes will happen sooner rather than later, as she adds: “This is truly the future of patient-focused medicine.”more