In response to “The Future of Orthotics Manufacturing,” by Cary Groner; July 2021.
A large part of 3D printing orthotics is to leverage different aspects of the additive process, without necessarily altering the type and style of orthotics practitioners are looking for. Perhaps another reason why 3D printing remains on the “ever-receding horizon” is because of the way segmental stiffness, for one example, has been applied. To design an orthotic with increased (or decreased) density and intricate geometries of various lattice structures in areas of increased (or decreased) ‘segmental values’ becomes more of an algorithm-based approach rather than a step-up design approach. Our experience is that practitioners still want to see an extrinsic post or a fascial groove or a Kirby skive, for example. This is how they have been taught and what they recognize and know. They know how to prescribe them, how to order them, and what to expect from them.
Further, many practitioners are also not exposed to the design softwares capable of 3D print-ready orthotics, or for that matter, the various types of 3D printing technologies, which is perhaps another reason for the slow acceptance of this technology, since 3D printing is not fully taught within the curricula of most podiatry schools worldwide.
Of the most common 3D printing technologies mentioned, the one left out—MJF (multi-jet fusion)—is likely the best positioned to accelerate this change (albeit with an extremely hefty pricetag) due primarily to the speed and volume at which it can produce orthotics. This technology will generally not have lattice structures, but rather various other additive advantages that practitioners will far easier accept and clinically recognize. In fact, there are a number of labs around the world that are already producing thousands of 3D printed orthotics and for some years already. We were at the forefront of this adoption in North America and have seen the remarkable growth and adoption of 3D printing both with clinicians and patients alike.
Brandon Maggen, NHD, HRD, MSc ,PhD, FFPM RCPS (Glasg)
Vice President, Technical and Business Development/3D Orthotics
Leo Lab (Leading Edge Orthotics Laboratories)
Vaughan, Ontario, Canada