A New Material and Fast 3D Printing Revolutionize Orthotics
An Austrian startup has found a way to make orthotics more comfortable. They established a super-fast 3D DLP based printing process that delivers them to patients much sooner.
Orthotics are a great way to help patients correct body misalignments, relieve pain, and recover from injuries. But the highly customized devices take a long time to make and are often unpleasant to wear. An Austrian startup has found a way to solve these problems with a new material that makes orthotics more comfortable. They established a super-fast 3D DLP based printing process that delivers them to patients much sooner.
Luxinergy, created in 2019, is the brainchild of co-founders Thomas Griesser, a chemist and professor at Montanuniversitat in Leoben, Austria, and Thomas Rockenbauer, a mechanical engineer and researcher. While studying photoreactive systems for 3D printers, Griesser developed a resin that was very strong, but also biocompatible and ductile – an ideal combination for medical use. Rockenbauer built a fast 3D printer using two powerful UV Projectors from In-Vision light. The two joined forces with an orthotics producer to form Luxinergy, which plans to bring its first orthotic devices to market in 2022.
The Traditional Plaster Process
The traditional way of creating orthotics is to build a “negative” plaster mold on the patient’s body – an uncomfortable and time-consuming process.
The mold is then carefully removed and a plaster “positive” is cast. This is refined and covered with plastic material in a thermoforming process. The resulting plastic orthotic is further refined, sanded, and sent to the orthopedist, who fits it to the patient. The entire process can take several weeks.
A Better Way: Additive Manufacturing
By using computerized images, 3D printing eliminates the discomfort of time-consuming casts, but orthotics created in this way can be brittle. This is the problem Luxinergy has solved with its new biocompatible resin, which is durable, and ductile. Fabricators can vary the thickness and pliability within different areas during production, ensuring maximum patient comfort.
In addition, Luxinergy adds perforations to its orthotics to make them more breathable and reduce sweating. Patients – especially younger ones – wear their devices longer when they are more comfortable, speeding recovery. And because the orthotics are made of clear plastic, an orthopedist can easily spot any pressure marks on the skin.
Printing at Lightning Speed
For its 3D printing, Luxinergy uses a process called digital light processing (DLP). Two UV Projectors display an image of the entire design across each layer of plastic resin. This way photopolymerisation works faster than using a laser (SLA), which exposes only one part of the design at a time. The big advantage of DLP vs. SLA is speed and quality.
The light engine called UV Projector is the heart of a DLP printer, and its speed, accuracy, and dependability are critical to production and throughput. Luxinergy chose to partner with In-Vision for its light engine after being impressed with the quality of its products and its innovative spirit in previous collaborations.
“We started collaborating with In-Vision on our scientific projects when we were at the university, and we now have access to their latest technology, which benefits us enormously,” Rockenbauer says.
In its current prototype, Luxinergy is using In-Vision’s newest light engine, Helios, which contains a chip with 2K resolution. These millions of tiny mirrors that can be controlled individually, allowing the company to build orthotics with pixel-level precision in a comparable big build volume.
The light that Helios produces is more than twice as intense as that of other light engines on the market. This allows it to cure the liquid photopolymer faster and boost the print speed. “Its intensity significantly reduces our printing time,” Griesser said.
Moving to Production
Luxinergy’s 3D printer, which is currently being tested in Austria, allows the company to create with vat photopolymerization orthotics in hours instead of the weeks required for plaster casting. Because materials are cheaper and the process is less labor-intensive and less expensive. In addition, In-Vision’s LED light is durable and easy to maintain and replace, ensuring smooth, uninterrupted operations.
Luxinergy plans to go to market with orthotic stabilizers for hands, arms, and legs in 2022. It has also attracted interest from the dental industry for producing plastic braces and retainers.
“Whether they are used for insoles for shoes, splints for stabilization, or prostheses, the latest 3D printing technologies are taking medical device manufacturing to a new level,” says Griesser. “We believe fast 3D printing is the future of orthotics.”