How are custom foot orthotics manufactured?
How are custom, functional orthotics currently manufactured?
To inform the custom-fabricated orthotics manufacturing process, podiatrists often begin by collating information on the patient’s leg, feet, shoes and current lifestyle. Thereafter, the podiatrist initiates the conventional orthotics manufacturing process by taking non/semi-weight bearing casts of the patient’s feet. To do so, wet plaster strips are wrapped around the patient’s feet whilst they remain static for at least 10 minutes. The plaster requires an additional 24 hours to harden before it is sent to an orthotics lab for manufacturing.
At the orthotics lab, the casts are filled with plaster to create a positive mold of the patient’s feet. The podiatrists’ recommendations are used to correct any biomechanical irregularities and/or defects at this stage of the process. Positive molds are placed in a vacuum press, covered with heated polypropylene and allowed to cool. Once cool, orthotics are ground to a specified length and size dependent on the patient’s unique requirements.
[Time taken: 3-4 days]
The custom-fabricated orthotics manufacturing process is highly labour intensive, costly and time inefficient. A diminishing workforce is challenged by increased demand, societal changes and significant economic constraints. The “diabetic foot ulcers: the pressure” article demonstrates the burden diabetic foot ulcers impose.
How are 3D printed functional orthotics manufactured?
The Imprints automated system will be used as a reference. The process is initiated by collecting unique patient data such as weight and shoe size etc.
Step one, Scan: A semi-load bearing 3D structured light scanner is used to capture a live-feed of the patient’s foot profile and pressure zones in seconds. Dimensions captured at this stage includes a plantar surface profile and patient-specific pressure zones.
Step two, Design: Our proprietary software is used to automatically design orthotics with variable density zones. The zones are responsive to patient-specific pressure data e.g. shape, weight, pressure points etc.
Step three: Print: 3D printed orthotics are designed and printed for personalised offloading. Manufactured in under 2 hours.
[Time taken: less than 24 hours]
Imprints are 3D printed orthotics automatically designed using the patient’s foot shape and load profile to reduce the risks associated with peak plantar pressures. The 3D-based system was purposefully designed to deliver an easy-to-use, cost and time efficient system.
The benefits derived from 3D printing orthotics is likely to drastically alter the current provision of orthotics. Users most likely to benefit include those at moderate to high risk of developing diabetic foot ulcers, plantar fasciitis, foot pain and/or other foot problems. Imprints’ low cost and easy-to-use system is also likely to increase accessibility to everyday users with comfort and stability issues, runners and everyday athletes who require custom fit orthotics.