Toward Collaboration: The 3D-Printing Community and O&P Professionals

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In July 2013, I founded e-NABLE, a global community of volunteers who develop and distribute free, 3D-printed upper-limb prostheses to children who were born missing fingers. Our Google+ community has since grown to more than 4,000 members, we have delivered about 1,000 devices, and we were featured in the February 17 New York Times.

I often remark that e-NABLE makes “children smile, parents weep, and nerds rejoice,” but I should probably add that it also makes some O&P professionals worry about how it will impact their profession. We worry too: We want to make sure we only offer simple and inexpensive solutions when they really are solutions. We must not provide illusory solutions to recipients who have better or more appropriate options. And we want to help, not hinder, O&P professionals and commercial prosthetics manufacturers as they develop and distribute ever-better products and services to ever-wider markets.

So, hat in hand, we approach with open arms, and hope you will reciprocate. The following are ideas for collaboration.

Case review and referral. We are developing a process for “triage” of prosthetic cases: cases in which volunteers can immediately provide a solution, cases that require medical consultation, and cases that e-NABLE cannot serve. We welcome consultation and advice from the O&P community, and want to refer cases that cannot be served by e-NABLE to professionals.

Fact sheets. We would like to collaborate on the development and release of a fact sheet about 3D-printed upper-limb prostheses so we’re on the same page. Professional training. At a recent conference at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, we conducted a BOC-certified continuing education credit workshop on e-NABLE’s methods, processes, designs, and technologies. We could develop training with, and for, O&P professionals.

Device certifications. As designs proliferate, we are developing processes for distinguishing “experimental,” “beta,” and “release” e-NABLE devices. A certification process would allow all of us to be more confident that the right devices are being used in the right cases.

Medical-grade e-NABLE devices. We are exploring the use of commercial selective laser sintering services, like Shapeways, for assured quality e-NABLE devices that are less expensive than existing medical devices yet substantially stronger and more reliable than volunteers can reliably produce. These could be made available to O&P professionals.

A skunkworks for interesting cases and unsolved problems. We can develop new solutions together. Our community is willing to brainstorm and prototype new solutions for interesting O&P challenges. e-NABLE member Jeff Erenstone, CPO, recently asked our community for ideas to help a patient who had been a professional welder. He and another member—a welder and master machinist— are developing a device together.

Database development. A database about the deployment, usage, and feedback of 3D-printed upper-limb prostheses could benefit all parties.

Opportunities abound for collaboration among the e-NABLE community and O&P professionals, and the newly formed Enable Community Foundation is eager to facilitate. To learn more about e-NABLE, visit our website, enablingthe future.org; participate in a private, moderated discussion forum; and if you agree that we have good work to do together, please join our private Google+ community and introduce yourself.

Jon Schull, PhD, is the founder of e-NABLE, president of the Enable Community Foundation, and research scientist in MAGIC (the Center for Media Arts Games Interaction and Creativity) at Rochester Institute of Technology. He can be reached at .

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