3D Systems - Bespoke Division
- This product is a strong example of when customization can be leveraged to its true potential, delivering an experience that is integrated, personal and strong application of additive manufacturing processes.
Bespoke Bracing is a new approach to medical bracing: a system to Scan, Design, and Print hand and wrist braces. The Bespoke Scanner images the outside of a patient's arm, transmits the scan data to cloud based servers where one of four brace designs, customized by the patient and clinician, are created to match the shape of the patient's individual anatomy. Each brace is 3D printed for a truly custom fit. The Bespoke Bracing system is comprised of an arm scanner, an iPad app, cloud software, a network of 3D printers, and four revolutionary arm brace designs.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
Due to materials and ad-hoc fabrication, current custom medical braces are cumbersome, unattractive, and often uncomfortable.
When someone is diagnosed with a chronic condition in their hand or wrist, they are often prescribed a custom-fit brace as part of treatment and rehabilitation. Millions of these braces are fabricated in the United States each year. Though existing custom braces— formed by hand from sheets of low-temperature thermoplastic and adhesive backed velcro— have problems. As they soil easily, are not well ventilated causing sweat, and cannot be cleaned easily, they turn brown and begin to smell after a period of days. Existing braces are visually unattractive, and patients are non-compliant, not wanting to have a clunky brace interfere with daily living, such as holding a baby or wearing fitted clothing.
The visual appearance of the brace also impacts a patient's interactions with others as they feel and face a stigma towards illness and injury. What if a brace could look more like jewelry and less like a traditional medical product?
We seek to increase patient compliance by re-imagining the medical bracing experience. We addressed existing pain-points through materials, design and technology, and our disruptive approach is manifest in the 3D printed patient-specific brace designs.
The team's background in technology, design, and 3D printing afforded two perspectives through which the project was realized.
First we sought to re-define the visual language of medical braces, aspiring to make patients feel comfortable wearing and even showing off their braces. We believe there is no reason that the principals of attractive, functional industrial design cannot be applied to the needs of custom medical devices.
Second, we leveraged and improved upon the latest 3D scanning, designing and printing technologies to enhance the experience of creating and fitting a medical brace. Our technological perspective allowed us to re-imagine the brace fitting workflow, reducing time to create a custom brace while ensuring a consistent and categorically superior brace.
In the process, we developed a third point of view through interactions with clinicians and patients. We learned the importance and value of a human-centered focus. This then became the third pillar in the psychological framework of the Bespoke Bracing project. We incorporated feedback into the design process and spent countless hours observing patients wear, use, and live with their braces. This helped us understand what worked and what did not work. As a result, our brace designs are a radical departure from existing braces, accomplishing the same clinical goals while addressing patient issues both voiced and observed.
3D printing enabled an entirely new research methodology. We were able to iterate on a bi-weekly basis, translating the latest idea or question into a physical reality, expressed to patients and stakeholders in near realtime. As such, we approached this project in an iterative fashion. Instead of asking every questions at the beginning, we asked questions progressively, building layers of knowledge that informed the user experience and the brace designs. Using revolutionary in-house design tools and the rapid prototyping and manufacturing capabilities, we were able to apply the principles of Agile Software Development to hardware.
Our primary stakeholders were patients, physicians, hand therapists, designers, and the manufacturing & fulfillment organization. We engaged our stakeholders actively throughout the design process.
For the patients we advocated the need to provide full support with the minimum of material in order to afford patient's a simple and harmonious brace. Since Bespoke Braces are custom and 3D printed they can be made in any geometry or configuration. We were able to vastly reduce the amount of material covering the patient compared to traditional braces, which are limited by the fabrication techniques from sheets of thermoplastic.
For physicians and therapists we built software for co-creation. Physician and therapists are able to, through an iPad app, control and adjust parameters of the brace (such as thumb height, number of straps). And the physical appearance and pattern of the brace can be selected by the clinician based on a patient's preference, allowing for mass personalization.
For designers of braces we developed proprietary software that translates the algorithmic and computational design into plain language that can be discussed and iterated on in conversation with other stakeholders. This is a remarkable achievement in software development.
For manufacturing and fulfillment organizations we developed automated process fulfillment, which allows for rapid, repeatable turnaround. Scan data is automatically uploaded to our servers where a backend processes the scan data along with meta data, and forwards it through the brace generation steps and to the manufacturing facility. Each collection of data is tracked throughout, ensuring seamless operations and consistent, timely results for patients.
Thus, as a project we considered and addressed the needs of multiple stakeholders, and the result is a system that takes a holistic point of view.
What the project represents, and what is in a larger sense truly unique about Bespoke Bracing is the Scan, Design, Print workflow— the ability to make patient-specific devices and products. This is a paradigm shifting, disruptive breakthrough that will democratize healthcare by empowering patient's to participate in and design their own healthcare experience.