Uncovering Challenges and Opportunities for 3D Printing Assistive Technology with Physical Therapists

Samantha McDonald, Niara Comrie, Erin Buehler, Nicholas Carter, Braxton Dubin, Karen Gordes, Sandy McCombe-Waller and Amy Hurst


University of Maryland, Baltimore County


Physical therapists have a history of modifying and making assistive technology (AT) to fit the unique needs of their patients. However, lack of materials, time, and access to training can restrict what they can create. While 3D printing has the opportunity to empower physical therapists to develop highly customized, economical, and timely assistive technology; little is known about the feasibility of using 3D printing in a clinical setting, and how to teach and engage physical therapists in physical prototyping. We collaborated with physical therapy professors and students at a medical university to integrate 3D printing and AT design into a graduate-level physical therapy class. Our investigation showed 3D printing is a viable tool for clinical production of AT. We found opportunities and barriers to 3D printing in the physical therapy field, and we present four considerations relevant to integrating 3D printing into clinical practice: 1) exploring augmentations versus novel AT designs, 2) improvements to novice 3D modeling software, 3) adjusting for prototype fidelity, and 4) selecting 3D printing materials. This paper contributes knowledge toward the understanding of practical applications of 3D printing in a clinical setting and teaching 3D modeling to non-engineers.

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