Additive manufacturing, more commonly know as 3D printing, is a game changer in the orthotics industry due to its potential application for quickly and accurately creating custom orthotic solutions. An article in the March 2013 Harvard Business Review suggested that mass production will be a thing of the past as 3D printing technology can easily customize products on a mass scale without the need to retool the design process.
Kegan Schouwenburg, an industrial designer, launched SOLS in 2013 based on her expertise in 3D printing, combined with her personal experience with orthoses. Schouwenburg, who suffers from severe subtalar misalignment, grew up wearing cumbersome orthoses. She believed there must be a simpler way to treat similar issues, and that technology could bring significant changes to how orthoses are prescribed and made.
“I started looking for applications of three-D printing and what products could be changed,” Schouwenburg said. “If we can take something that isn’t desirable like orthoses and make something incredible that enables people to live their lives in a pain-free way, that’s pretty cool.”
New York City-based SOLS pioneered a 100% digital process to prescribe custom corrective orthoses, leveraging advanced data capture and 3D printing. SOLS Rx, its medical offering, is available for licensed providers to prescribe and treat patients.
SOLS Rx providers use an app on an iPhone or iPad to create a customized orthotic design for each patient. (An Android app is under development.) Within the app, providers enter the patient’s height, weight, and activity level. The provider then captures three images of each foot: plantar, medial, and posterior views. The images, coupled with the patient’s information, allow the SOLS Rx algorithm to extract critical data points to build a CAD model of the orthotic device. The provider then prescribes additional design features based on the patient’s needs.
After a provider submits the order, SOLS generates the orthoses using selective laser sintering (SLS) 3D printing. In the printing process, a laser melts a NASA-grade nylon plastic polymer to create the orthotic devices at .01 mm per-layer accuracy. The finished orthotic device, which typically has a sevento 10-day turnaround, is engineered to the patient’s foot geometry, weight distribution, subtalar alignment, and activity level.
SOLS Rx reinvents the doctor and patient experience, making the custom orthotic prescription process simpler, cleaner, and faster, Schouwenburg said. SOLS Rx algorithmically alters control points to promote a more neutral stance for patients with subtalar misalignment and can help treat medical conditions such as adult-acquired flat foot, Achilles tendinitis, metatarsalgia, plantar fasciitis, and sesamoiditis.
In just two years, SOLS has expanded its network to include more than 1000 medical professionals, including podiatrists, physical therapists, and chiropractors. Patients and providers alike have given positive feedback. SOLS biomechanical engineer Jacy Bulaon said, “Many who have experienced SOLS Rx noted its simple data capture process and slim profile that solves the fit-to-shoe problem common to many traditional orthotic devices.”
Reese Petersen, DC, of Pinnacle Sport & Spine in Clinton, IA, shared his experience with SOLS Rx. “I have had a chronic issue with my left knee varus, which caused knee pain and cavitations when applying a valgus force,” he said. “Other orthoses never addressed this issue. SOLS [Rx] helps correct this issue and level my pelvis. Now I can walk in a biomechanically symmetrical manner with reduced pain.”
Bulaon noted, “The technology allows practitioners to spend more time with their patients and less time in the lab working with fabrication. Our product operates off of being able to use our algorithm and our understanding of the feet to create the correction.”
SOLS is using customer feedback to constantly improve its products. “We recently released an update to the app that allows the provider to take the photos of the foot in a corrected stance and essentially overwrite our algorithms in making the adjustments,” Bulaon said.
SOLS is also looking ahead at performance products and creating different structures within the orthotic device to be used not just for walking, but also for running.
“Three-D printing is really opening doors in terms of allowing us to create dynamic zones of flexibility in the orthotic device that you normally can’t create,” said Bulaon. “We still have a lot of room here to expand on different performance goals, such as running or a specific sport. I don’t think we’re limited to orthotic devices, but this is where we are innovating right now.”
In October 2015, SOLS introduced SOLS Flex, the first 3D-printed custom insoles available directly to consumers. As with SOLS Rx, pictures are taken with an app to create an accommodative comfort insole. However, it doesn’t provide alignment correction or other medical features. SOLS Flex is an alternative for customers who seek customized off-the-shelf insoles with a turnaround of 10 days or less.
“When I learned about the product, I realized that SOLS is innovating in a space that hasn’t been touched in a really long time to make an even better product,” said Bulaon. “Providers are excited about using this new technology.”
Article sponsored by SOLS.