3D printing has become more affordable and accessible to the general population. Currently, in 2019 an entry-level 3D printer can be purchased for around $200, with filament material costing about $20 for a 2-pound spool.
The process involves:
- Designing or downloading a 3D model
- Customizing the model to your client’s needs (option, but very OT)
- Converting the model to a language the printer understands (using slicing software)
- Printing the model!
3D printing allows clients to enjoy adaptations and enhancements to their daily occupations. An occupational therapist’s role can include being involved in the designing and 3D printing process for clients, or educating and empowering clients to learn 3D printing itself.
3D Printing Community
A large library of free community-made printable models exists online that can be downloaded and printed without too much technical knowledge. Many youtube videos exist online with tutorials and reviews for the 3D printing world, and even the younger generation can get involved in this new accessible technology. A beginner’s entry cost to 3D printing is becoming more affordable as the cost is required is for hardware, materials, and printing time. Software is completely free to design and print your designs.
Examples of 3d printed occupational therapy objects on Thingiverse
Client Condition Examples
- Rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, increased tone in the hand, fine motor deficits, sensory loss in fingers, other hand deformities.
- Any patient wearing a c-collar: post-spinal surgery, spinal fracture, osteoarthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis, wrist amputation, burns, post hand surgery (carpal tunnel, tendon repair)
- Hemiparesis, amputation, TBI, congenital hand deformity and orthopedic injury
- And anything else up to your imagination!
It is worth noting print issues with 3D printers. With more entry-level printers, incorrect settings, or clogged/worn out parts may result in imperfections. 3D printing can be both a science (technical) or an art. For OTs, most of clients just need their
hack adaptation to work.
Check out simplify3d if you are having print issues.
Does it require technical knowledge of computers and such?
Ready to go 3D printers exist that are more “plug and play”. As mentioned, models exist that can be downloaded, converted to the correct format, and printed. However, issues can arise during the printing process, and the printers may require maintenance and troubleshooting. More beginner-friendly 3D printers require less assembly and may not even require initial calibration. Depending on whether you are using it for hobby level or professional (multiple prints in short periods), you may require a more expensive 3D printer and filament to outlast your productions. While the process for beginner models are less involved, they are not like home office inkjet printers that only require replacing ink cartridges. There are many moveable parts that may wear and require replacement such as nozzles or the wiring.
Is it difficult to create my own designs?
Not at all. Software with a small learning curve exists that is even free. Many children (with supervision, of course – as the surfaces can become very hot!) have been able to design models of their own. So can you learn it to? Of course! All you need is a computer with internet access and a little time to go through a free online tutorial, and you can start dreaming up your design.
- Tinkercad is a free online software for computer-aided design (CAD), and it has several tutorials: https://tinkercad.com/quests/
- Sketchup MAKE is another free design software tool: www.sketchup.com/products/sketchup-make
Do different materials exist to be printed from?
Yes! Some materials are easier to work with than others, but their durability varies. Popular materials such as PLA are easy to print and affordable, but are more succesiptible to higher temperares such as in a car or dryer. Even familiar materials such as nylon and TPA (found in cell phone cases) can be 3D printed! The filaments that can be printed must be compatible with your 3D printer. Also, open to air 3D printers work differently than closed boxed 3D printers for the type of material that can be used most optimally.
Are the materials expensive?
The cost of materials varies depending on the application, material used, and how densely they are printed (solid vs. hollow). An instructor at Texas Woman’s University in Dallas has incorporated 3D printing into his coursework for occupational therapy students. The cost of some of the projects range from very cheap to moderate:
- Adapted key turner – $1.18 for filament, total cost $3.18
- Boxed wine spout adapter – $68.81 for total filament
- Sink water spout diverter (inverter) – $2.01 for filament
- Water bottle cap opener – $15.22 for filament
- Toothbrush holder – $1.27 for filament
- Cock-up wrist splint – $5 for filament, $10 total cost with other materials
- Ball-grip pen adapater – $20.44 for filament
- Right angle utensil holder – $5.94 for filament
- Book page holder – $2.25 for filament
- Shopping bag holder – $8.06 for filament, $10.13 total
If you have looked in an OT catalog, these prices are extremely affordable compared to commercially made products. Of course, these products can vary from well-researched to poorly made as well. The appeal of 3D printing for occupational therapy is the customizability (to fit the client), low cost, and endless possibility and concept of “if you can think of it, you can print it”.
I am not ready to buy a 3D printer, how can I try out 3D printing?
Check out your local resources. For example, my local library has a 3D printer that offers the resource for free. You may only be required to pay for the filament that you use. Of course, in these situations, you are limited by time as you do no have hours and hours to wait for the print. Just like an injet printer setting for “draft vs. normal” – the longer the print time, the better the 3D print quality.
Online printing services also exist to outsource your 3D printing projects. Turnaround times vary and there may be shipping charges, but these companies often have more professional printers and you can expect the printed models to have fewer qaulity issues compared to “hobbyist” type printers.
- 3D Printing for Beginners – All You Need to Know to Get Started
- How To Get Started In 3D Printing
- Dr Vax Youtube Channel
Lastly, Subscribe to OTDUDE.com (Free e-mail newsletter) for 3D Printing for Occupational Therapy updates!