The combination of Fripp Design and Research's industrial design expertise and the University's knowledge of materials and colour mapping will help make the quality of life for thousands of soft tissue prostheses wearers much better.
Professor Ric Van Noort of the University of Sheffield
In 2007, the University of Sheffield approached Fripp Design and Research with an interesting Industrial Design challenge; the University wanted to know if it was feasible to adapt current 3D Print/Rapid Prototyping Technologies to rapid manufacture soft tissue prostheses.
"For patients requiring the fitting of a soft tissue prosthesis, such as an ear or nose, the process of making and fitting prostheses are archaic at best" commented Professor Ric Van Noort of the University of Sheffield. "It requires the taking of an impression from the patient, the making of a mould, the hand painting of the prosthesis and custom modification during the fitting process to the patient" continued Professor Van Noort "The whole process is time consuming and the quality of the prosthesis once made, can be highly variable; we knew there had to be a better, more modern, way of making soft tissue prostheses but were not sure how it could be done".
Fripp Design and Research's business is all about taking best practice industrial design methodology into healthcare. "When Professor Van Noort approached us with the design problem, we knew there had to be an industrial design solution" stated Tom Fripp, Managing Director at Fripp Design and Research "We knew there was a potential solution; so we took it upon ourselves to invest resources to produce prototypes of what Professor Van Noort was looking for".
Working closely with the University of Sheffield during 2007-2008 we were able to secure support from the University's Knowledge Transfer Opportunities Fund (£8950) and a White Rose Health Innovation Partnership grant (£35,500) and develop the prototypes.
Fripp Design and Research and the University of Sheffield then approached the Wellcome Trust to fund the necessary Research and Development to develop a commercially viable solution and were successful in being awarded a Translation Award of £500K in January 2009. The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust's breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests.
Three years on, the two organisations have achieved just this.
"The partnership between Fripp Design and Research and the University of Sheffield has developed a unique and innovative solution to the problem of making soft tissue prostheses" added Professor Ric Van Noort of the University of Sheffield "the combination of Fripp Design and Research's industrial design expertise and the University's knowledge of materials and colour mapping will help make the quality of life for thousands of soft tissue prostheses wearers much better. It exemplifies what the project is about; which would never have happened without the support of The Wellcome Trust".
The system that the team developed captures 2D colour and 3D spatial data independently. The 2D colour data is mapped on to the 3D spatial data, which is then manufactured on a 3D Colour Printer using 100% biocompatible materials. "It was deliberate to separate the colour and spatial data capture" said Fripp "The colour data can be captured with any good digital camera and, as the cost of 3D scanning technology comes down, the cost of capturing the patient data will become affordable across the globe; and all we need is that data to manufacture the prostheses here in the UK". Professor Van Noort added "as important is the fact that we have developed a system using biocompatible materials; this is a real breakthrough for powder based 3D Printing".
To see a video of how the system works, please click here
For patients, there are four significant benefits; no invasive impressions are necessary, turn around times are dramatically reduced, replacements can be provided at the press of a button and there is, now, consistency in the quality of the manufactured prosthesis.
For Healthcare providers there is a reduction in the cost of manufacture, which has a number of benefits; reduced cost to the provider as well as providing soft tissue prostheses to patients who, currently, cannot get access to a prosthesis.
This collaborative project demonstrates what can be achieved when a University works closely with an SME to deliver better solutions to their patients' needs concluded Tom.
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