3D printing technology is on the rise, and there is increased use by professionals and laypersons. Someday soon, this amazing technology will give hand therapists a remarkable tool to make “in-house” assistive devices, hand exercise equipment, therapy tools, orthotic components and orthoses (formerly termed “splints”), and more.
What are 3D printers and how do they work?
There are different types of 3D printers that use various processes to create objects. The most common type of 3D printer in the consumer market uses plastic filament with a price range of about $500 to $4,000 (Figure 1). Think of it as a highly sophisticated hot glue gun, which melts plastic filament and deposits it in layers from the bottom up to form an object (like building a brick wall). A digital file provides the “virtual blueprint” for instructing a 3D printer where to lay the plastic to form an object. These digital files are created by persons with skill in using computer design/modeling software or from scans of objects (using scanning technologies and even data from MRI or CT scans).