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iFab: How 3D scanners and printers are revolutionising treatment for patients
To this day, plaster casts are made to adapt prostheses as effectively as possible. But 3D scanners offer a faster, more convenient option. Our iFab (individual fabrication) makes it possible to produce orthotics and prosthetics quickly and custom-made. O&P professionals scan a residual limb and process the data directly on a computer. Time that was once spent on manual work on the plaster cast – often a complex task – can now be channeled into the fitting process. Sources of errors are also minimised, as the processed data can be tested in a computer simulation and transferred to the carving robot and 3D printer. iFab digitises the entire fitting and fabrication process.
"As an orthopaedic technician, I was sceptical about digitalisation at first, but when my first user told me that his 3D-printed liner fits better, I was convinced."
Uli Maier, Certified Prosthetist and Orthotist
The five steps of digital fabrication
Digitising a craft
The digital ecosystem in iFab not only places a stronger focus on patients’ needs and interests during treatment. It also makes the related administrative processes easier for medical supply companies and orthopaedic technology businesses. Instead of sending off plaster models by post, they now transmit their data digitally via an online platform (the iFab Customer Centre). We support them as they make the transition to a plaster-free workshop and give them the digital tools they need to use our global Ottobock iFab fabrication sites as their extended workbench.
More time for people
Digitalisation is decreasing the manual component of the Certified Prosthetist and Orthotist profession. In return, there will be an even stronger focus on caring for patients. The iFab platform provides a crucial new intermediate step in patient treatment – namely, simulation. Using patients’ biometric data, a computer can now be used to check, even before it’s fabricated, whether the fitting solution will work as intended. This makes fabrication more precise, minimises potential errors and saves materials and time.
iFab 4.0 – Advancing the digitalisation of orthopaedic technology
A digital treatment process that is precisely tailored to the specific needs of orthopaedic technology, that further improves personalised patient care and that optimises the 3D printing process chain with intelligent algorithms. This is the goal of iFab 4.0, an innovation project funded by the European Union and the Federal State of Lower Saxony.
Higher quality of care
At its Duderstadt site, Ottobock is working on seamlessly expanding its own process chain – scanning, modifying, printing – with further innovations. The project team is developing its own software solutions specifically for scanning and modelling human anatomy, is driving forward the automation of additive manufacturing and is connecting the iFab hub in southern Lower Saxony to international digital fabrication sites.
Data from individual digital treatments as well as from the entire production chain will be recorded in a central database in the future. There, AI and algorithms filter out success models and methods that are used to self-optimise the medical devices and processes. The vision: An end-to-end digitally connected treatment and 3D printing production process that becomes smarter over time to deliver higher quality treatments.
Artificial intelligence (AI) for intuitive movements
How does a prosthetic hand know when to extend a finger and type on the keyboard? In the past, people with an amputation had to intensively learn to give their prosthesis complex signals via muscle contractions. Today, prostheses learn: Thanks to electrodes that capture bio-signals in the residual forearm and thanks to artificial intelligence, Ottobock prostheses are able to identify how the user wants to move. The prosthesis then automatically assigns these signals to the correct hand movement.
Control via smartphone and app
Right from the start, O&P professionals use a special app when fitting and adjusting this type of prosthesis. After this, users can manage and practise controlling the prosthesis themselves on their smartphone.
And if they give their consent, devices can even be serviced via the cloud in future. The prostheses will then be able to send direct feedback to Ottobock so we can optimise the technology and avoid potential errors before they occur.
Smart sensors and microprocessors
Ottobock introduced the C-Leg – the world’s first leg prosthesis to be controlled by microprocessors – back in 1997. The experiences we gained in the process led to the introduction of the Genium in 2011. This solution simulates a natural, physiological gait almost perfectly with the help of microprocessors, microsensors and micromotors. This enables users to move with maximum safety, even on difficult surfaces.
Combined advances in computer, sensor and motor technology mean that users can now use the prostheses for running, cycling and swimming. Users can simply select the various modes; an app on their smartphone is one way of doing so. This demonstrates how digital transformation is opening up new opportunities. At the same time, it also creates new requirements – so a special coating on Ottobock’s bebionic hand prosthesis now makes it easy to interact with touchscreens on mobile phones or tablets.