Low-cost 3D desktop printing, although still in its infancy, is rapidly maturing, with a wide range of applications. With its ease of production and affordability, it has led to development of a global maker culture, with the design and manufacture of artefacts by individuals as a collaborative & creative hobbyist practice. This has enabled mass customization of goods with the potential to disrupt conventional manufacturing, giving more people access to traditionally expensive products like prosthetics and medical devices , as is the case with e-NABLE, a global community providing open source prosthetics for people with upper limb deficiencies.
However one of the major barriers to proliferation of 3D printing as a major manufacturing method is the limitation of compatible materials for use with the technology . This places constraints on the design approach, as well as the complexity & functionality of artefacts that can be produced with 3D printing as compared to traditional manufacturing methods. As a result, devices like the e-NABLE Raptor Reloaded prosthetic hand, which is designed specifically to be produced via a single extruder FDM desktop 3D printer, have limited functionality as compared to conventional prosthetics, leading to low active use and prosthesis abandonment . However, with the advent of multi-material desktop 3D printing, and increasing availability of a broader range of compatible materials (of varying characteristics) , there is scope for improving capabilities of low-cost prosthetics through the creation of more sophisticated multi-material functional integrated devices.
This work documents the exploration of potential applications of multi-material 3D printing to improve production, capabilities and usability of low-cost open source prosthetics. Various material combinations were initially studied and functional enhancements for current 3D printed prosthetics were prototyped using key material combinations identified. Further, a user-centered design approach was utilized to develop a novel multi-material anthropomorphic prosthetic hand ‘ex_machina’ based on a modular platform architecture, to demonstrate the scope for reduced build complexity and improved dexterity & functional customization enabled by dual extrusion FDM desktop 3D printing. A full prototype was built & tested with a lead user, and results analyzed to determine scope for optimization.