3D Printing Aids Veteran Amputees in Prosthetic Limb Production, Now Used in San Antonio, Texas

In 2014, 2.6 percent of veterans wounded in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan returned missing an extremity or suffered injuries that required medical amputation…


by Katlyn Brinkley

The US Department of Veterans Affairs has begun experimenting with the use of 3D printing to create prosthetic limbs for amputee war veterans in a more efficient and personalized system, and San Antonio is home to one of these machines.

This year, the Veterans Affairs Center for Innovation has partnered with Stratasys, one of the leading corporations for 3D printing in the world. Together, these organizations are working to revive parts of the body that were once dead, or lost completely, for US Veterans.

Limb injuries have become more commonplace in surviving war veterans because of the evolution of body protection armor. As it becomes more advanced, soldiers can withstand shots to the body that would normally be fatal. Limb injuries, however, are sustainable, meaning soldiers can continue to live, even with a disability.

However, technology has anticipated these results at an equally rapid rate. Prosthetics are artificial structures created to replace lost body parts and restore functionality. While one of the earliest prosthetic inventions is thought to be a set of artificial toes in Egypt from 3000 BCE, modern-day amputees will be experiencing an entirely new era of artificial anatomy.

3D printing is the creation of artificial objects by 3D scanners using an additive process, which involves a machine that successively lays down layers of material on top of each other repeatedly. Ultimately, an object is built up from the layers’ cross-sections. The objects are fully customizable for individualized function and comfort for each user.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has been laying groundwork for the improvement of health support for returning veterans. The McGwire Hospital in Virginia has been innovating specifically for 3D printing. Stratasys has supplied five 3D printers to VA hospitals across the United States.

Central Texas is home to one of these five printers, located in San Antonio. The remaining four were installed in Seattle, Albuquerque, Boston and Orlando.

In 2014, 2.6 percent of veterans wounded in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan returned missing an extremity or suffered injuries that required medical amputation. The development of a customizable, faster outlet to prosthetics would vastly improve the quality of the artificial limbs as well as increase the rate at which people could receive them.

The effort to rehabilitate the minds, bodies, and lives of these soldiers is the motivation behind the commitment from the Department of Veterans Affairs and 3D printing corporations like Stratasys. 3D printing could be the future of prosthetics across all amputee injuries, beginning with improving the lives of war veterans.


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